Understaffing in nursing homes linked to preventable deaths

New research showing that the number of deaths in nursing homes from preventable causes has increased by 400 per cent over the last 13 years again highlights the urgent need for mandated nurse and carer to patient ratios, according to the Australian Nursing and Midwifery Federation (ANMF).

The research, collated from the Coronial investigations into nursing home deaths over the past decade, was carried out by Monash University Professor Joseph Ibrahim and published in the Medical Journal of Australia. It showed the most frequent causes of death were:

  • Falls (81.5%);
  • Choking (7.9%);
  • Suicide (4.4%).

The research, the first in Australia to undertake this level of analysis into fatalities in aged care, revealed how many deaths there are in nursing homes that just “shouldn’t be happening”.

ANMF Acting Federal Secretary Annie Butler said the research confirmed the findings of the union’s own National Aged Care Staffing and Skills Mix Project which clearly demonstrated the devastating effects of chronic understaffing in the residential aged care sector.

“The ANMF study found gaping holes across the system with frequent episodes of missed care. The shortfall of staff in the sector means that aged care residents are frequently missing out on essential care and treatment. Only 8.2% of the study’s 3000 plus respondents said that staffing was always adequate,” Ms Butler said.

“Unfortunately, the findings of Professor’s Ibrahim’s research do not come as a big surprise to the ANMF or to our members working in the residential aged care sector, who have been telling us how much worse the sector has become and how difficult it is for them to provide the care they know their residents need. There just simply aren’t enough nurses or carers to ensure that every resident receives quality care.

“This is a situation that is increasingly distressing for our members as well as for residents and their families and it’s one we are battling to change. However, the more evidence, such as this research, we have, the more politicians will have to listen. They cannot continue to treat Australia’s elderly in this way.

“If we had this level of preventable deaths occurring in our hospitals there would be a public outcry. Why is it that we don’t care the same way about our elderly, choosing instead to lock them away and forget about them? As Professor Ibrahim says, we owe older people a better place to live out their lives because they’ve given us one of the best countries in the world to live in.”


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