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Nurses' labour market in Iceland

Numerous nurse staffing surveys conducted in recent decades have revealed an ongoing nursing shortage in Iceland. According to a labour market analysis for nursing, only 69% of nurses in the country are members of the Icelandic Nurses’ Association and around one thousand are employed in occupations other than nursing. A vast majority of nurses (98%) are women and about 94% work in the public sector. Around 13% of nurses will have reached pensionable age in coming years.

The results of a survey into staffing levels in nursing in Icelandic healthcare institutions show that a total of 225 full-time positions, or 290 nurses, are at present required to fill positions that have already been funded within the healthcare system. The average work ratio of nurses in healthcare institutions is 71%. Chief Nursing Officers and Chief Nursing Executives estimate, however, a need for 405 full-time positions, or 523 nurses. On average, some 146 students are enrolled into nursing programs each year with an average of 120 graduating four years later. The average dropout rate among newly graduated nurses was 15% in the period 2012-2016. Taking into account the average work ratio, this means that 102 new nurses fill a total of 72 full-time positions each year. Nurse staffing projections for the years 2017-21 show a continuing need for 420 nurses in years to come since recruitment will barely suffice to balance out the number of nurses going into retirement. This projection is somewhat conservative because it does not allow for possible increases in the numbers of nursing home beds or other changes that might affect nursing requirements.

The most common starting salary for nurses is ISK 359 thousand for full-time work. Average standard salaries for nurses are ISK 526 thousand for full-time work. The difference between the salaries of nurses and other public sector employees with comparable education and responsibility is around 20%. A comparison of the standard wages of nurses and doctors, however, reveals a difference of 98%.

It is clear that a large number of nurses is needed for work in Icelandic healthcare institutions. In order to ensure sufficient nurse staffing and thereby improving patient safety and reducing mortality rates, it is imperative that serious action be taken by public authorities as well as the healthcare institutions themselves. Population projections estimate an increase in the population of persons aged 60 and over in coming years, which will still further increase the demand for healthcare professionals.

In order to combat the nursing shortage, the Icelandic Nurses’ Association recommends that more funds be allocated to the education of nurses and that their salaries be increased to match the salaries of other public sector employees. Furthermore, steps should be taken to reduce workloads and improve working conditions to help raise the work ratio among nurses, which is largely the result of the current work environment, work arrangements, work hours and work-related stress.

February 2017, INA

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