Chronic Understaffing in Aged Care Is Causing Enormous Pain and Suffering for Residents and Families

ANMF Media Release. 17 January, 2019 

With another burst of stories detailing the pain and suffering being experienced by nursing home residents appearing in the media as the Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety prepares to commence its official proceedings tomorrow, the Australian Nursing and Midwifery Federation (ANMF) says it’s time we finally, and genuinely, acknowledge that the system has failed Australia’s most frail and vulnerable. Radical change is desperately needed, both to the system’s rules and the system’s culture.

Federal Secretary Annie Butler said chronic understaffing and under regulation of our aged care system are the root causes of the horrific stories that have come to light, not just this week but over the last few months, and that no doubt will continue to emerge as the Royal Commission continues. Yet, nurses and doctors, and other health professionals, have been sounding alarms about these issues for over a decade, with no action.

“Australia has the opportunity to be a world leader in our delivery of aged care just as we are in our delivery of health care. Older Australians, those who cared for us as we grew, are entitled to affordable, accessible and high‐quality aged care services delivered by a professionally trained, accredited and dedicated workforce. They do not deserve the current chronic understaffing and underfunding that leads to unnecessary wait lists, unmet expectations, pain and suffering,” Ms Butler said today.

“The unregulated use of chemical and physical restraints in nursing homes again exposed this week provides yet another example of how the elderly are suffering as a result of chronic understaffing in aged care. Providing dignified care for vulnerable residents, particularly those with dementia and other complex high-care needs, requires the right number of nurses and carers with the right skill mix.  

“Time and time again, we have warned Governments of the effects of chronic understaffing in nursing homes. We have provided them with evidence of the dangerously low staffing levels that exist in too many nursing homes across the country, we have conducted rigorous academic research to provide evidence for the amount of staffing and care we know should be available in nursing homes, and we’ve even developed an implementation plan and a financial analysis for phasing in an evidence-based methodology for improved staffing – with no response.

“Our warnings, and the warnings of doctors and other front-line health professionals, our evidence, and our solutions were all ignored. Consequently, the situation has continued to worsen to the horrific levels we are witnessing now.

“One of the key barriers is that there is a culture of thinking that aged care, and the aged themselves, don’t deserve the attention or investment that we give to other sectors. That culture has to change. If we are to have any real hope of providing older Australians with the care they deserve, we must re-focus. The culture in aged care has long-been about profits, not people. As the public is starting to see now, it’s certainly not about prioritising the care needs of residents.

“The Aged Care Royal Commission is important and necessary but it should not mean a delay in reforms. If we continue to delay doing what we know is right it means at least another 18 months of pain and suffering for the elderly and, potentially, too many undignified deaths. 

“We know it requires investment but we also know that the investment will be recovered through more jobs and by productivity gains over time.

“The measure of a society is how it cares for its elderly, those who cared for us. Right now we don’t measure up, but we can, and we can become the world leader in care for the elderly we should be.

“Nurses, doctors and qualified health professionals agree, the system must introduce mandated minimum staffing ratios and skills mixes to finally end this crisis.”

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