Nearly half of New Zealand nurses have considered quitting after suffering "moral distress" over their work, a new study claims.

The Massey University study quizzed more than 400 nurses about the dilemmas they experienced in their daily work life.

It showed 48 per cent of respondents had considered leaving their job and 16 per cent were considering leaving their current position immediately over moral issues beyond their control.

Martin Woods, a nursing ethics and education expert, said the New Zealand-first survey revealed the widespread impact of moral distress in the profession.

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"It's very disturbing; half the nursing workforce at some stage have had such moral disquiet that they wanted to leave."

"This survey uncovers the ethical issues and constraints affecting nurses.

"It shows moral distress is a reality nurses are struggling with - and they are really struggling. Stories of burnout and leaving not just a given position but nursing itself must be taken seriously."

Nurses were seen as experiencing moral distress when internal or external constraints clashed with what they believed to be ethically appropriate actions.

The five key areas where nurses experienced moral distress were:
• Concerns they were not delivering good care due to pressures from management to reduce costs.
• Watching patient care suffer because of a lack of continuity in who was providing treatment.
• Working with other professionals who were not competent enough to provide the care needed.
• Carrying out physician's orders for what was considered to be unnecessary tests and treatments.
• Carrying out extensive life-saving actions when the nurse thought they were unnecessarily prolonging the dying process.

Experiencing any of those five situations could lead nurses to consider quitting, Dr Woods said.

They could lead to feelings of depression, burnout and stress, he said.

"These occur more frequently - and often with more devastating effects - than perhaps may have otherwise been anticipated."

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The research conducted earlier this year surveyed 412 nurses from around New Zealand. Results were similar to overseas studies.

- Herald Online