Ged addresses Press Club on aged care

ANF Secretary Ged Kearney calls on the Government to fulfil its pledge to improve pay and working conditions for aged care nurses.

It’s time to start building an aged care system we can be truly proud of. That was the message delivered by ANF Federal Secretary Ged Kearney in her speech to the National Press Club in September.

Before an audience of journalists and other guests, including the Minister for Ageing Justine Elliot, Ged told the nation – via a live broadcast from the ABC – about the plight of aged care nurses, who struggle with poor pay and understaffed nursing homes.

‘Even in the best-funded, best-run centres it needs only one thing to go wrong for things to go seriously off schedule,’ she said. ‘In fact, it is really only manageable on a good day. Our members tell us that nursing homes are constantly understaffed. All it takes is for one worker to call in sick or one person to be called away urgently for family reasons and workloads become unbearable. If a replacement worker cannot be found, the other staff must pull together to ensure their elderly residents still get bathed, dressed, get their meals and medication. The pressure is unrelenting.’

Being forced to cram an eight-hour workload into seven or even six-hour shifts, together with a shortage of the right mix of staff, means residents, as well as nurses, are suffering, said Ged.

‘Under-staffed, overwhelmed, insufficiently supported, our nurses and carers are sometimes asked to choose which crying, bewildered resident to help first.

‘Ladies and gentlemen, in the 21st century, with all the wealth our nation has recently accumulated, our aged care nurses and carers should not have to be practising a form of triage. They should not have to be choosing whose pain is worse and whose urgent need is the most urgent of all. They should not have to be spending their valuable time on unnecessary administration because the system that supports them is badly designed. They should not have to be muddling along, cutting corners and stretching resources that extra inch further until they are at breaking point and finally snap. Our aged care nurses and carers are doing a heroic job on our behalf, for the people we love.

‘But they are battling against a system that will not support them,’ Ged continued. ‘Our Government, our society, we our-selves, are letting them down and in the pro-cess letting our elderly people down. It is time we did something about it. The time to start is now. In fact, we have little choice. Because if we do not start now, the rapid ageing of our population means we will soon be swamped.’

Ged called on the Federal Government to fulfil its pledge to address wage dis-parities between the aged care and hospital sectors, improve training, introduce minimum staffing levels and ensure that a portion of the funding for aged care is set aside to improve wages and conditions.

Finally, she called people’s attention to the ANF’s Because we care campaign and invited the press and guests at the National Press Club to view the campaign DVD featuring aged care nurses and patients’ families. ‘We cannot escape the implications of an ageing population any more than we can escape the ageing process ourselves,’ said Ged.