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Curationis. 2004 Nov;27(4):28-36.

Nursing attrition and the work environment in South African health facilities.

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  • 1Employment and Economic Policy Research, Human Sciences Research Council.


A number of media reports appeared on the shortages of professional health workers in the public health sector. Unsatisfactory working conditions in health facilities were mentioned as one of the key aspects responsible for the shortages. Literature indicates that stress caused by unsatisfactory work environments may play a major role in employees' decision to resign their jobs, in spite of enjoying the nature of their work. The aim of this article is to explore the current human resource situation in nursing i.e. to determine if a shortage of nursing skills exists, to establish the challenges that nurses have to face in performing their duties and to establish the potential effect of the work environment on attrition. Currently 155 484 nurses are practicing in South Africa at a rate of 343 nurses per 100 000 of the population, which compares favourably with the World Health Organisation minimum of 200:100 000. The lack of reliable data on the supply of and demand for nurses makes it difficult to determine whether real shortages exist. However the supply of nursing services is influenced by the uneven distribution of skills across regions and the outflow of professional skills. It seems that the existing situation will deteriorate because fewer people are interested in taking up or pursuing nursing as a career in South Africa. At the same time a need for more nurses was identified because of the growth in the population as well as a change in health care needs. Workplace conditions for health workers employed at hospitals and clinics in South Africa were explored as part of a recent national study on the impact of HIV/AIDS on the health sector. Health workers' opinions on aspects such as workload, staff morale and working hours were obtained during personal interviews, which were conducted at 222 health facilities. Nine hundred and twenty four professional nurses, enrolled nurses and nursing assistants, who were mostly employed in the public health sector, participated. A stressful work environment was identified in public hospitals and clinics. An increase in the number of patients visiting these facilities, accompanied by a lack of equipment, unsatisfactory work environment and a shortage of nurses were pointed out. Many patients cannot be accommodated elsewhere because of a lack of finance and alternative health care options. Nurses also indicated that they do not get much support from their employers. The effect of all these factors culminates in a stressed workforce who may be forced to consider alternative career options. This will be to the detriment of health care in the country.

[PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]
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