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80 percent of nurses reported no increase in staffing to prepare for COVID-19

Peak body for nurses, midwives and carers, the Australian Nursing and Midwifery Federation (ANMF), released their national Aged Care COVID-19 Survey revealing that 80 percent of participants experienced no increase in care staff to prepare for a potential COVID-19 outbreak.

The aim of the survey was to obtain aged care workers' experiences of their aged care facility and how prepared their employers was to deal with the coronavirus. [Source: Shutterstock]
The aim of the survey was to obtain aged care workers' experiences of their aged care facility and how prepared their employers was to deal with the coronavirus. [Source: Shutterstock]

Nearly 2,000 Registered and Enrolled Nurses, personal care workers and ancillary staff from across the non-profit, for profit and Government aged care providers, participated in the national survey, which was conducted from 15 April to 6 May.

The aim of the survey was to obtain aged care workers' experiences of their aged care facility and how prepared the provider was to deal with the coronavirus, as well as understand what provisions and strategies had been implemented.

This survey was able to find key challenges that the aged care sector faced as well as reveal major gaps in the industry's response to the pandemic when it came to providing care to Australia's most vulnerable.

Federal Secretary of the ANMF, Annie Butler, believes Australia managed the overall pandemic well across States and Territories, however, the organisation still has concerns around how the aged care sector prepared for dealing with a potential coronavirus outbreak.

"Our concern is due both to the chronic understaffing and widespread lack of skills in the sector, so clearly identified by the Aged Care Royal Commission and the increasingly well-known risks for older people from COVID-19," says Ms Butler.

"We recognise that the Government has provided considerable assistance to the sector since the beginning of the COVID-19 outbreak in Australia but we have been unsure as to whether this assistance has converted to the additional staff, skills and resources required to prepare for, and deal with, an outbreak of COVID-19. 

"So, we conducted this survey to find out what’s happening on the ground."

The survey also highlighted that 19 percent of for-profit facilities, 17 percent of not-for-profit facilities and 13 percent of Government-run aged cares had staffing cuts from the beginning of March.

Of the survey participants, under 40 percent believed their aged care home was ready to deal with a COVID outbreak and under 30 percent said their facility had enough Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) supplies.

Many aged care facilities have been updating or administering their procedures for handling a pandemic, however, the survey found that 77 percent of participants reported their employers only recently updating or implementing their infection control procedures.

Ms Butler says, "A concerning element of these results is the reports that staffing has not been increased and, in some cases, has actually been reduced since the beginning of the COVID-19 outbreak in Australia, across the aged care sector, despite a majority of workers reporting that they would be willing to work additional hours to help out during the pandemic.

“Perhaps even more concerning is that once again, aged care workers are reporting significant levels of stress, pressure and a lack of support as the sector grapples to combat COVID-19. 

"This is while they continue to be the ‘glue’ that is holding the system together. A fact that has been unacknowledged by the government and the sector since the pandemic began."

A survey participant said in their submission, "We are working short staffed now. My concern is if we have an outbreak, the staffing numbers will be reduced even more and our residents are going to suffer.”

Another survey respondent says their facility wasn't taking enough precautions while the coronavirus is still present in Australia.

They say, "[The employer] stated that if we suspect [COVID-19] in the facility, that we would ask for a test but not put precautions in place until we have a positive result which I feel vulnerable being exposed to the risk of Coronavirus …

"[W]hy should staff have to be asked to attend to residents as normal without being provided with adequate PPE or told off if we use PPE without a Coronavirus confirmed case? 

"I understand there is limited supplies on PPE, but I still believe that we aren’t being given a fair opportunity to protect ourselves and our other residents that we have to care for."

The ANMF acknowledges that aged care workers have been working hard in nursing homes to protect older Australians despite the challenges they have been facing in their facilities.

For more information about the coronavirus, visit the Aged Care Guide COVID-19 update page.

Do you have any questions about the coronavirus that you want answered? Tell us in the comments below or email journalist@dps.com.au.

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