Community urges NSW Govt to keep registered nurses in aged care

The NSW Nurses and Midwives’ Association (NSWNMA) has stepped up its campaign insisting registered nurses remain in all NSW aged care facilities with high-care residents, holding a forum in NSW Parliament today.

Demonstrating widespread community support for its Insist on Registered Nurses 24/7 campaign, the NSWNMA handed over more than 10,000 signatures on a petition that calls on the NSW Government to retain a legislative requirement for registered nurses to be on duty at all times in all sites where residents have high-care needs.

Backed by community groups, health organisations, local government representatives, employees and concerned families, the NSWNMA is lobbying government to preserve registered nurses and directors of nursing in aged care facilities with high-care residents.  This legal requirement is under threat due to changes to Commonwealth aged care laws and their impact on state legislation.

General Secretary of the NSWNMA, Brett Holmes, addressed the Parliament House forum and said the threat followed amended language in the Commonwealth Aged Care Act 1997, effective from 1 July 2014, which impacted definitions in the NSW Public Health Act 2010.

“After lobbying by the NSWNMA and community groups, the NSW Minister for Health enacted an interim arrangement until the end of 2015 and agreed to consult with the sector,” Mr Holmes said.

“An aged care Steering Committee has been considering options for changes to the state legislation and will deliver a report to the Minister by 1 July.  It’s vital for quality of care that these requirements are placed permanently into NSW legislation.”

Charmaine Crowe from the Combined Pensioners and Superannuants Association said the clinical care of high-needs residents would be at risk if the state government chose to abandon the requirement.

“If there is no registered nurse on duty, many nursing home residents are often sent to hospital emergency departments for treatment because other care staff are unable to provide the high-skilled care they need onsite,” Ms Crowe said.

“Despite 95 per cent of Australia’s aged care facilities being fully accredited, research shows many nursing home residents are dying prematurely from falls, choking, suicide or medication mistakes.

Dr Lyndal Newton of the Australian & New Zealand Society for Geriatric Medicine said registered nurses were integral in providing skilled, clinical care to nursing home residents with complex, high level needs.

“This includes assessing and managing changes in condition, providing pain relief, palliation, minimising discomfort or distress, and preventing unnecessary hospital admissions,” Dr Newton said.

“The roles of a registered nurse and director of nursing in nursing homes with high-care residents are vital to the NSW health system.”

Several local governments throughout the state have passed resolutions in support of the Insist on Registered Nurses 24/7 campaign.  In Sydney, Marrickville Council, Ashfield Council, City of Sydney and Willoughby City Council have all expressed concern, along with Blue Mountains City Council, Nambucca Shire Council and Moree Plains Shire Council.

Nurses, from Armidale in the state’s north to Wagga Wagga in the south, have passed resolutions in a show of support for their aged care nursing colleagues and have raised awareness in their local communities.

Community organisations, including NSW branches of National Seniors, Country Women’s Association of NSW, Alzheimer’s Australia NSW, NSW Cancer Council, GP Networks, Older Women’s Network of NSW and multi-faith groups, have also written to the Health Minister to highlight their concerns over the proposed changes.

The petition of 10,000 signatures, accepted today by Blue Mountains MP Trish Doyle, will be tabled in NSW Parliament for debate in the Legislative Assembly.