Aged care campaign racks up gains

Better aged care staffing is firmly on the public policy agenda after a year of strong campaigning by nursing unions around the country.

Nursing unions around Australia have made significant progress in their national campaign for aged care staffing ratios, the NSWNMA Annual Conference heard.

Annie Butler, federal secretary of the Australian Nursing and Midwifery Federation (ANMF), said the public was increasingly aware that nursing homes were not properly staffed.

“Over last 12 months, ANMF members have campaigned across the country, in big cities and small towns, seeking support from the public and commitments from politicians,” she said.

The staffing campaign had achieved a number of important gains over the past year and the ANMF was now “fully engaged” with the royal commission into aged care quality and safety.

The commission had heard the union message on staffing “loud and clear” and commission hearings had received a lot of media coverage.

Annual conference delegates responded with a round of applause when Annie said: “Two NSW assistants in nursing stood up for their residents and gave evidence to the royal commission and I think their courage deserves to be recognised.”

She said political support for aged care ratios was growing.

Just over a year ago, only one federal politician – Senator Derryn Hinch from Victoria – had pledged support for the ratios campaign.

By the May 2019 federal election, 96 politicians had officially signed up to the campaign.

“The federal election outcome wasn’t the outcome we wanted,” Annie said.

“We had no commitment from this government – and we got a half-way commitment from the ALP – but we do have some allies in this government.”

Two nurses now in federal parliament

Annie said there were now two nurses in federal parliament – independent MP Helen Haines, a former nurse practitioner and midwife, and Ged Kearney, the shadow assistant minister for aged care and skills who is a former secretary of the ANMF.

“We will continue to work with them and other alliances we have been building with other nursing and midwifery groups, other health professionals, and the wider community.”

She said ANMF branches had made staffing gains in health care sectors outside aged care.

Victorian nurses had secured improvements to their ratios legislation to deliver another 600 nurses and midwives for the state.

Queensland nurses had secured funding to make 400 nurse navigator positions permanent.

And in NSW, at a local level John Hunter Hospital nurses had shown the way by winning additional staff for their emergency department.