The NSW Nurses and Midwives’ Association (NSWNMA) is raising awareness during Seniors Week (14-22 March) of the potential risk to a requirement which ensures registered nurses are on duty 24 hours a day, 7 days a week in nursing homes across NSW.
Nurses and carers in the aged care sector have been hitting the streets, holding community forums and coordinating a petition to highlight their concerns and to call on the state government to protect the requirement.
General Secretary of the NSWNMA, Brett Holmes, said under current laws, NSW nursing homes must have a registered nurse on duty at all times and must appoint a director of nursing – but those same laws are under threat.
“The majority of our community has family who are dependent on nursing home care. We are extremely worried that removing the requirement for a registered nurse to be on duty in these care settings would risk the safety of residents,” Mr Holmes said.
“Registered nurses in nursing homes are vital to preventing unnecessary trips to public hospital emergency departments or prolonged hospital stays. They provide immediate skilled, clinical care to residents with complex, high level needs.
“Not only do registered nurses perform expert nursing procedures, they oversee complex medications and can manage change or deterioration in a resident’s condition and know when a GP or nurse practitioner should be called.”
Mr Holmes said the threat was as a result of changes to Commonwealth aged care legislation which impacts upon state laws.
“On 1 July 2014, amended wording to the federal Aged Care Act 1997 prompted a flow on affect to the definition of a ‘nursing home’ in the NSW Public Health Act 2010. This change could have erased the requirement for a registered nurse to be on duty at all times,” said Mr Holmes.
Following concerns raised by the NSWNMA and community groups, the NSW Ministry of Health enacted a ‘transitional regulation’ to maintain the requirement while it conducts an 18-month joint consultation process. A decision is due to be handed down by December. While this is welcome, there is no wider process for direct consultation with consumers, community-based groups or organisations.
The NSWNMA has called on the Ministry of Health to ensure the requirement for registered nurses and the appointment of a director of nursing is permanently legislated for nursing homes in NSW.
“We are committed to ensuring residents of all aged care facilities receive the high quality care they rightly deserve,” Mr Holmes said.
During Seniors Week, NSWNMA members are encouraging concerned residents statewide to sign their petition and insist on registered nurses 24/7 in NSW nursing homes.
The NSWNMA will continue to lobby on behalf of registered nurses, enrolled nurses and assistants in nursing for safe staffing and high quality of care across the aged care sector.
The petition can be found here.
Download this media release: Nurses highlight threat of losing RNs in aged care