As thousands of aged care nurses prepare for their shifts across NSW, a widespread sense of triumph and relief will envelop them this weekend when a significant milestone is reached.
The legal requirement for residential aged care facilities to have at least one registered nurse on duty, 24 hours a day, seven days a week, will come into effect tomorrow (1 July), a long overdue reform welcomed by the NSW Nurses and Midwives’ Association (NSWNMA).
NSWNMA General Secretary, Shaye Candish, said for decades many aged care facilities had operated without a single registered nurse onsite despite a rise in the clinical needs of residents.
“It is great to finally see a federal government brave enough to promise reform of the aged care sector and subsequently deliver it,” said Ms Candish. “Despite years of heartache, our members remained resolute in closing this loophole in the NSW legislation and ensuring residents had access to the nursing care they deserve.
“Tirelessly, they collected signatures on petitions, held street stalls and public forums, contributed to state parliamentary inquiries, met with politicians and stakeholders, and gave evidence at the historic Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety.
“As we look forward to minimum care minutes also commencing in October, we recognise there is more work to do. We acknowledge the current workforce challenges, and the government’s efforts to assist providers to meet the legislative requirements.”
NSWNMA Councillor and aged care registered nurse of 36 years, Jocelyn Hofman, reflected on a sense of pride and determination to fight for change.
“Being advocates for the residents in our care is an integral part of our profession,” said Ms Hofman. “Nurses are essential to provide timely intervention and pain relief when our residents are in severe pain or discomfort. We are there to ensure safe quality care.
“We need nurses on the floor 24/7 in aged care for a reason. They supervise, mentor, deal with complex emergencies, attend to clinical procedures, liaise with allied health colleagues, guide and support grieving families. Nurses truly are the beating heart of the aged care sector.”
NSWNMA delegate and Sydney aged care registered nurse, Angelin Maharaj, said after years of campaigning she was excited and relieved knowing that having registered nurses 24/7 would deliver a higher, safer quality of care to residents.
“We are so happy, as it means there will be reduced risk of harm to residents across facilities by ensuring qualified and experienced registered nurses will be available to identify potential risks,” said Ms Maharaj.
“It will give residents better access to care in facilities and allow registered nurses to manage issues as first responders, which will improve resident safety and prevent unnecessary trips to hospital emergency departments.
“It will also mean we will keep and recruit new registered nurses to the aged care workforce.”
From today (30 June), aged care nurses will also begin to see improvements to their wages following the landmark Work Value Case in the Fair Work Commission, a decision Ms Maharaj said was recognition for the profession.
“We are the workforce that has always been undervalued, underpaid and unrecognised for our jobs. We are overjoyed that finally we are being heard and have been rewarded this 15 per cent pay rise,” said Ms Maharaj.
Ms Hofman agreed, “Increasing our wages will make a massive difference in attracting staff. Everything has been going up faster than our wages!”
Ms Candish acknowledged the well deserved pay increase for aged care nurses was possible after $11.3 billion was allocated in the last federal budget.
“The Fair Work Commission and the Albanese government have acted, and finally aged care workers will be paid for their vital role in caring for older Australians,” Ms Candish said.
“In addition, some Assistants in Nursing will also be entitled to the 5.75 per cent increase to minimum award rates. This will be a significant boost for some of our lowest-paid workers in the aged care sector.”
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