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Calls for staff ratios to be included in Royal Commission

Staff ratios have yet again been called into question with the Australian Medical Association (AMA) urging the case for a regulated, registered nurse-to-resident ratio to be considered in the aged care Royal Commission.

Staffing ratios in aged care are once again up for discussion (Source: Shutterstock)
Staffing ratios in aged care are once again up for discussion (Source: Shutterstock)

AMA President, Dr Tony Bartone says the ratio must be sufficiently flexible and adapt to the needs of residents in each aged care facility around the country.

“Many aged care providers commonly do not meet the Clinical Care Accreditation Standard, likely due to a shortage of trained, experienced and appropriate staff and a lack of resources,” he says.

“There are not enough registered nurses with aged care experience to provide the clinical governance, oversight and leadership required in these facilities, leading to poor clinical care, inadequate communication and a lack of knowledge about individual residents.”

Dr Bartone says AMA members are “deeply concerned” that the health and aged care systems are not well resourced enough to provide timely clinical care for older Australians with one in three members who currently visit patients in residential aged care facilities planning to scale back or completely end these visits by 2020.

He says with the ageing population and push to keep older people in their homes, non-nursing workforce must be better trained.

“The Government must, as a matter of urgency, ensure that the health and aged care systems and their workforce are prepared for this.”

Acting Federal Secretary of the Australian Nursing and Midwifery Federation (ANMF)  Lori-Anne Sharp says the ANMF has long-campaigned for staff to patient ratios in residential aged care homes.

“We can’t wait for a Royal Commission to examine the need for mandated staffing, or the chronic understaffing that continues to compromise the care of elderly residents.” 

She says with more people entering nursing homes at older ages, more frail and with 50 percent suffering with dementia and other complex, chronic medical conditions, it is critical sufficient numbers of skilled staff are available to provide care.

 “All too often we hear stories of just one registered nurse responsible for over 90 residents this is just not acceptable and must be addressed as a matter of urgency.

“Our members tell us where the problems are; the families of residents tell us where the problems are – it’s time the Government listened and mandated staff to resident ratios, as a matter of urgency.

“Everyday we wait, is another day an elderly person in a nursing home suffers through a lack of care, because there is simply not enough staff rostered on each shift.”

But Ms Sharp notes the hard-working care staff within Australia’s residential aged care facilities should not be oversighted.

“Despite the best efforts of many dedicated, hard-working nurses and care workers, without minimum staffing ratios, they are run off their feet and just can’t provide the basic, decent care that residents need,” she says.  

“The top for-profit providers receive billions in taxpayer funds, yet there is no law to guarantee that money goes to the delivery of care for residents. 

“The ANMF are urging the Government to “act now” and “not wait 2-3 years for a Royal Commission.”

Minister for Senior Australians and Aged Care Ken Wyatt says supporting our dedicated aged care workers is a top priority as a proud and professional workforce is the foundation for quality aged care. 

He says for this reason, the Government is supporting the development of Australia’s first industry-led Aged Care Workforce Strategy.

“Crucial to this strategy is building workforce capacity, with a strong focus on staff retention and the development of new, professional career paths.”

“The adequate provision of staff remains a key component of Australia’s aged care quality standards and there will be no compromise on the quality of care.”

A new Industry Reference Committee is also currently being formed between community groups, unions and aged care providers to tackle critical skills and workforce issues identified by the Taskforce that will help drive major improvements in training and skills and rapidly grow the sector’s professional workforce.

Mr Wyatt says over 5,000 submissions regarding the Royal Commission’s Terms of Reference are being “carefully considered”.

Kerry A Hardie took to Facebook to share her thoughts on staff ratios.

“I’ve worked in high care aged care for 6 years there are some good carers and some bad ones. There is no regulation for staff to resident ratio which needs to change to deliver a better service we are over worked,” she says.

“On a daily basis I deal with [incontinence] being hit punched sworn at spat on kicked, pinched only wanting to make the resident safe and in a clean comfortable state. Things need to change for residents and Carers.”

Leading Age Services Australia (LASA) Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Sean Rooney says staffing in residential care facilities is a critical factor in the care of older Australians.

“As an industry, we need to work towards ensuring providers have the right number of staff, with the right mix of skills, to meet the different needs of every resident in their care.”

Mr Rooney says LASA supports the views of the recently completed Aged Care Workforce Strategy, led by Professor John Pollaers, who suggests a review and research to determine the optimal staffing model and mix for Australia’s aged care system alongside measures to attract, retain and develop the workforce.

“LASA encourages the Royal Commission to investigate workforce issues noting the substantial actions already underway as part of the Aged Care Workforce Strategy,” he says.

Issues identified for the Terms of Reference consultation process include upskilling and career pathways, promoting good workplace practices and culture, the adequacy of training and qualification standards, approaches to understanding staffing requirements, appropriate staffing mix and levels and appropriate remuneration.

 If you have any concerns about inadequate staffing contact the Aged Care Complaints Commissioner immediately on 1800 550 552. You can remain anonymous.

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