Veteran Shellharbour nurse Karin Tilden is calling on the state health department to take check of the well-being of its older nurses and midwives.
With retirement age set to increase to 67 in Australia, the Shellharbour branch president of the NSW Nurses and Midwives Association has initiated a statewide campaign to protect ageing workers.
Last month the Nurses NSW Committee of Delegates passed the Shellharbour branch’s resolution that the association liaise with the Ministry of Health to establish an Ageing Nursing and Midwifery Workforce Review Group.
Ms Tilden said the purpose of this group would be to collect data on the ageing nursing population in NSW, before establishing guidelines on how to protect this growing sector.
‘‘When I started nursing 41 years ago we did a lot of manual handling – we lifted patients physically, we pushed them around, you’d often have two 60-kilogram nurses lifting a 120-kilogram man with their bare hands,’’ she said.
‘‘In the past 20 years or so that’s changed, with the introduction of lifting aids and equipment, but years of doing that has taken its toll on many of us.
‘‘I had a knee replacement 15 months ago and six months ago started suffering from a sore back.
‘‘There’s so many older nurses with similar ailments and despite the changes, nursing is still a physically demanding job where you are on your feet constantly. How are we physically going to be able to cope with that in our mid to late sixties?’’
Ms Tilden, who works in Shellharbour Hospital’s emergency department, said she wanted to see appropriate career paths and tasks developed for nurses and midwives aged over 55.
‘‘We want management to start thinking about their ageing nursing staff,’’ she said.
‘‘We don’t want staff being forced to retire earlier as they can no longer cope with the physical demands of the job.
‘‘We don’t want to lose all those years of valuable experience, we want to see these older staff put into mentoring roles so they can teach younger staff and pass their passion for the job on.’’
Sitting behind a desk is not the answer for Ms Tilden.
‘‘I’ve always enjoyed being hands-on and I love the contact with patients.
‘‘But surely older nurses can take on roles where they can use their brains, not their brawn.’’