Aged care campaign backed by solid evidence

There is mounting evidence of the need for safer staffing of nursing homes says ANMF federal secretary Lee Thomas.

A national campaign for safer nursing homes will rest on disturbing evidence that a lack of minimum staffing regulations and inappropriate skills mix is harming vulnerable elderly patients.

The Australian Nursing and Midwifery Federation’s federal secretary, Lee Thomas, told the NSWNMA annual conference the evidence is outlined in three recent studies.

The Australian Law Reform Commission’s report, Elder Abuse – A National Legal Response, found that the proportion of registered and enrolled nurses has decreased and the proportion of assistants in nursing/personal care workers has increased.

The report released in June said 70 per cent of direct care workers in residential care are AiNs/PCWs, some of whom have no minimum qualifications.

“The report outlined how staff tolerate a level of staffing and staff mix in aged care that would close wards in the acute system,” Lee said.

“Despite years of discussion and criticism it is still possible to work with extremely vulnerable older people while having no relevant qualification. This should be an outrage.”

The report included evidence from ANMF members that a lack of staffing can lead to instances of “inadvertent abuse of elders.”

The number of residents in aged care had almost doubled since 1995 but governments had failed to do anything to ensure that nursing homes had the right number of staff with the right skills to care for them.

Nursing home resources, human and otherwise, were becoming so scarce that “on many occasions it is just not possible for residents to be cared for safely, or even humanely”.

A Senate inquiry into Australia’s aged care workforce in June found that current nurse-to-patient ratios in aged care were “too low and risked compromising the quality of care delivered” and recommended providers publish their workforce ratios “in order to facilitate informed decision making by aged care consumers”.

Elderly only getting two thirds of care they need

The Senate findings followed the release of university research commissioned by the ANMF, which showed an urgent need for more staff in residential aged care.

The report found guaranteed staff ratios and mandated nursing and care hours for each resident are needed to ensure safe staffing.

“For the first time ever, we have academically rigorous evidence to demonstrate how dangerously inadequate current staffing levels are in residential aged care across Australia,” Lee said.

“We also know that residents need 4.3 hours of care per day, but typically receive only 2.84 hours.

“This means that on average across the country the frail elderly living in aged care only get two-thirds of the care they need every day.”