Nursing in Australia and the UK Compared


Published: 17 October 2017

With Ausmed recently becoming an Associate Member of the Commonwealth Nurses and Midwives Federation, we thought this would be a great opportunity to compare nursing in Australia and the UK.

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Nursing in Australia and the UK Compared

Working in the UK is a common occurrence for Australian nurses, likewise UK nurses working in Australia. The similarities in healthcare models, employment opportunities, cost of living and language has meant that migrating between the two countries for nurses and midwives is simple, and often welcomed.

With Ausmed recently becoming an Associate Member of the Commonwealth Nurses and Midwives Federation, we thought this would be a great opportunity to compare nursing in Australia and the UK and see where each country varied in several categories – from average yearly salary to age, gender and overall global healthcare ranking.

National Healthcare Service

The National Health Service (NHS) in the UK was a major point of contention in this year’s general election, with questions being asked about funding, wages and even the potential for privatising the NHS on the table.

The NHS differs from Australia’s Medicare most significantly in how healthcare is paid for. Under the Australian system, practitioners are paid at the point of care per consultation, while the NHS has a system of capitation payments.

Medicare is a universal, government-controlled service and financed by a levied percentage of the population’s tax. Healthcare in Australia is also supplemented with private providers whose services are usually partly covered by Medicare.

In the UK, the NHS differs slightly between England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. Generally, the public is able to access free healthcare from GPs and some other services. The NHS is publicly funded through taxation and, though private providers exist, they are not funded by the NHS. (19)

Patient Ratios

In general, the UK has a nurse-patient ratio of 1:8 (1), however, the Royal College of Nursing in their Guidance on Safe Nurse Staffing Levels in the UK, provide several different recommendations for staffing levels, based on the place of work, location, number of beds, etc. (20)

Australia nurse-patient ratio, on average, is 1 nurse to 4 patients, except during night duty. (2)

Average Salary

Registered nurses on average earn £25,653 (3) ($42,535) in the UK and $65,000 (4) (£39,201) in Australia (note, numbers vary by band/tier, position, private/public workplace, location etc. )

Population and Total Number of Nurses

Despite having a much larger population of 65,648,054, (7) the United Kingdom has comparatively fewer nurses than Australia (by percentage), with only 1.05% of the population (690,773) working as nurses (5).

Australia’s nurses make up around 1.6% of the 24,385,600 (8) population (387,888 nurses) (6).

University Education

From September 2013 onwards, all nursing education in the UK was at a degree level, after a period of reform (known as Project 2000) spanning across the 1990s and 2000s seeing nursing education move across from diploma education to a formal degree level. Australia began the transition to bachelor degrees in the 1990s.

The change to university education saw criticism in both countries, with critics believing the move would mean nurses would lack the hands-on experience that hospital-based training had previously offered. (18)

Average Age and Retirement Age

The average age of nurses in Australia is significantly older at 44 (10), compared to nurses in the UK who average at 39 (9). This could be due to the fact that the average retirement age of UK nurses comes at 55 years old (11), whereas Australian nurses are retiring later and later  – from anywhere between 55 and 70 years of age (12).

Nurse Gender

The nurse gender differences in Australia and the UK are very similar, at 89.2% (16) and 88.6% female (15), respectively, however, the number of male nurses has seen an increase in recent years (statistics looked at did not account for the countries’ genderqueer/non-binary nurse numbers).

Mandatory Continued Professional Development (CPD)

Australia introduced mandatory continued professional development/education requirements in 2010, with nurses being required to complete a minimum of 20 hours of CPD as part of their yearly registration renewal (14). This change has seen Ausmed’s CPD platform become the leading tool in Australia for nurses and midwives to document and reflect on their CPD requirements, with over 1,000,000 hours of CPD documented since its release in 2016.

In the United Kingdom nurses are required to complete 35 hours of CPD, however, this can be spaced across the three year period since their last registration renewal (13).

Overall World Healthcare Ranking

Though many studies have been conducted on where each country’s overall healthcare models rank on a global scale, the most recent places the UK first, with Australia coming in second (17). Other countries ranked included the Netherlands in third place, New Zealand in fourth and Norway in fifth. The United States was ranked last out of the 11 considered, with the highest rate of mortality.

National Healthcare Service NHS Medicare
Patient Ratios Approx. 1:81 Approx. 1:42
Average salary £25,6533 $65,0004
Nurses Per Capita 1.05 per 1005,7 1.59 per 1006,8
Health Expenditure (% of GDP) 9.1%21 9.4%21
University educated since 2000s 1990s
Average age 39.79 44.610
Retirement Age 5511 55-7012
Mandatory CPD Since 201513 201014
Gender 88.6% Female – 11.4% Male15 89.2% Female – 10.8% Male16
Overall World Healthcare Ranking17 1 2


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Matthew Stott View profile
Matthew Stott is Ausmed's Senior Digital Editor. He is lead of the Ausmed editorial team and has written and published hundreds of health articles online.