It has been a long time coming but aged care nurses are starting to get the recognition they deserve for their passion and commitment to Australia’s elderly.
Nurses in aged care had very good reasons to celebrate after the Federal Budget was passed down by Treasurer Wayne Swan last month.
For some time these nurses have told us they want to be able to deliver quality care to their residents and the Treasurer has responded with a $130 million package of initiatives that will allow them to upgrade their skills and further their education (see page 14).
The Budget also contained other elements we welcome and that have been an important part of our Because we care campaign.
There is $3.5 million to explore the regulation of AiNs and personal care workers in aged care. This should be the first step towards the licensing of AiNs and other workers who have direct resident contact.
Licensing would bring AiNs the recognition they deserve as part of the nursing family. It would also bring reassurance to residents and their families and safety for nurses, knowing their colleagues have sufficient training, and are of good standing and suitable to undertake the responsibility of caring for vulnerable residents.
The Government has also set aside $500,000 for a research study on staffing levels, skills mix and resident care needs in Australian residential aged care facilities.
This will set the stage as we continue the Because we care campaign. What we have won in the Budget is welcome but there is still unfinished business.
There remains the major issue of the wage gap between aged care nurses and their colleagues in the public health system.
There is also a need to tie any increase in funding to the provision of extra nursing care.
This campaign will continue for a fairer deal for nurses and residents and their families. The Federal election this year will be a crucial part of the ongoing campaign.
When we launched our Because we care campaign 18 months ago we were determined to put the needs of the aged care sector front and centre in the public eye. We believed the work of aged care nurses was not recognised or sufficiently valued by Australian society.
This campaigning is beginning to pay off. There are lessons in this for nurses working in the public health system.
Aged care nurses have shown how a strategic campaign with clear objectives and driven with passion and commitment in the workplace and community can produce good results.
Many of you will be aware that our organisers have been out and about in the public hospitals working with our Branches collecting data we see as critical to our campaign for nurse/patient ratios in our public hospitals. I wish to thank all those NUMs who gave up their time to participate in this crucial data collection.
This will put another piece in place as we ramp up the campaign for safer staffing levels in our hospitals.
This year there has been a lot of extra money committed by the Federal Government to the public health system. More than $7 billion, in fact, with 500 new beds to begin opening from July.
No amount of reform or money or new beds is going to improve our health system without more nurses with the right skill mix to staff them.
Aged care nurses have shown that this campaign is winnable if we are patient, strategic and committed to the long haul.
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