As of August, nearly 5,000 New Zealand nurses have registered to work in Australia.
It shows the size of those crossing – or planning to cross – the ditch often to take up lucrative short-term contracts of up to NZ$8500 a week.
Rotorua nurse Tracey Morgan had her last day at her community clinic on Thursday and was planning to go to Australia.
She was emotional and stayed hours after she finished to help the only other nurse working.
“I didn’t know this day would come so soon and that I would be… very sad,” she said.
Morgan, a former president of the union, the Nurses Organization, said she, like many other nurses who have run away, loved her job but was burned out.
“I didn’t want to be one of those numbers, but they don’t invest enough in the nurses who are here to keep us.”
To work in Australia, Kiwi nurses must first formally register with the Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency.
A spokesman for the agency said that since August 4951 have done just that.
There was no measurement of how many went through to work.
Kaiwhakahaere nurse organization Kerri Nuku said it took a lot of effort to register, so most of those who did already had “one foot out the door”.
Many went for short periods, sometimes leaving their families for a few weeks, then coming home for a few weeks and going again, she said.
The good places to go were spread by word of mouth.
Te Whatu Ora chief executive Fepulea’i Margie Apa said the number of people registered in Australia was a serious concern if it led people to take up jobs.
“We need every nurse we can find in New Zealand as well as as many from overseas that we can attract to come and work here, so that’s a real concern.”
A Melbourne medical recruiter told RNZ that short-term contracts ranged from about $3,500 to about $8,000 Australian dollars per week, depending on factors such as seniority, expertise and the length of the contract.
The money included allowances, such as for working in a remote location.
Contracts started at about four weeks and went up to about 18 months, and nurses had the option to go home during that time, she said.
Nuku said there was an additional concern that the health system would lose many Māori nurses to the short Australian contracts – they were already underrepresented.
But she didn’t blame any nurse for taking the opportunity.
“They transfer, they get better recognition, better pay, in the short term, and they can bring in extra money for the household budget.”
There were about 54,000 nurses working in New Zealand, some of them part-time.
Last year, the estimated shortfall was 4,000, but Te Whatu Ora said it did not know what the current situation was.
The Nurses Organization said it wanted money specifically in this year’s budget for funding for nurses.
Te Whatu Ora’s Margie Apa said the board has yet to submit its recommendations to the cabinet, but staff funding is paramount.