Persistence pays

The state of the aged care sector is a national disgrace and our arguments for change are beginning to gain traction.

Aged care nurses have been campaigning for years to change the abysmal state of our aged care system and their persistence has finally been rewarded with a number of significant developments.

Firstly, the media has finally listened to their concerns and cast a spotlight on the dangerously low staffing levels, the poor practices and the profiteering that is rife in the sector (see pp 8-9).

Last month, Four Corners broadcast a very harrowing account that exposed a major crisis in our aged care homes. The Daily Telegraph also conducted a comprehensive investigation into aged care which revealed a shocking abuse of taxpayers’ money by some major aged care providers.

This has had political consequences with Prime Minister Scott Morrison calling a Royal Commission into the state of aged care.

The Four Corners report was very distressing. It was hard to watch these elderly, vulnerable members of our community suffer due to inadequate care, without proper food and without access to the most basic of needs like continence pads.

The brave family members and staff that spoke out deserve our admiration and support.

For many nurses these revelations were not news. 
Aged care nurses, the NSWNMA and the ANMF have worked tirelessly for many years to bring these conditions to light.

We have commissioned research, lobbied politicians, held rallies, run advertising campaigns, taken to social media and talked to the community in a myriad different ways about the terrible state of aged care.

It is a relief that finally these efforts are beginning to stir a response.

The public responds with fury

And the response by the community to the Four Corners report was telling.

The Four Corners Facebook page was awash with caustic comments about aged care providers and their weak explanations for the poor state of care in their homes.

More than 36,000 people voted in an online poll in the first three days after the program went to air. Ninety seven per cent said minimum staff to resident ratios should be enforced in aged care facilities.

This is highly encouraging. The public instinctively understands that the lack of staff is central to the problem and minimum staff-to-resident ratios are an important part of the solution.

The response of the federal government was also telling. Even before Four Corners had gone to air the government preempted the fall out by calling a Royal Commission.

The crisis in aged care certainly warrants a Royal Commission. Society has a moral obligation to stop this neglect and abuse of the elderly.

But there have been decades of reports and inquiries outlining the problems and issues in aged care and any findings of a Commission and the federal government response must go beyond more talk to action.

Addressing the glaring staffing problems remains the overriding challenge.

Aged care providers receive billions of dollars in taxpayer-funded subsidies yet there is no law to guarantee that public funding goes directly to the provision of care.

The NSWNMA and the ANMF have championed a safe staffing law that guarantees safe nurse-to-resident ratios in our aged care facilities. We will remain resolute pursuing that goal.

There is still some way to go to achieve our goals so we must keep up our campaign. The tenacity shown by our aged care members has gotten us this far and we must keep it up.

It is a lesson for us all, in all of our campaigns.

Making substantive change in health and aged care always seems impossible until it is done. But if we show tenacity, resolve and courage we know there is a public out there that supports us and governments that fear that public support.