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Ratio recommended in aged care amendment

An Aged Care Amendment (Ratio of Skilled Staff to Care Recipients Bill 2017) aimed at ensuring quality care is provided to residents in nursing homes across Australia has been introduced to Federal Parliament.

Bill introduces the concept of a mandated ratio of skilled staff to care recipients in Australia’s aged care residential facilities (Source: Shutterstock)
Bill introduces the concept of a mandated ratio of skilled staff to care recipients in Australia’s aged care residential facilities (Source: Shutterstock)

The amendment, introduced by Senator Derryn Hinch, comes amid growing concerns of the staffing levels within aged care homes, and the lack of a prescribed minimum-staffing standard.

When introducing the amendment, Senator Hinch reflected on what older Australians have done for Australia, highlighted during his speech that they deserve a better level of care.

“Elderly Australians have contributed valiantly to society, and throughout their lives have helped make Australia the great country it is,” he continues.

“Unfortunately, many of these Australians who have given so much to our society are highly vulnerable, and are not currently guaranteed the standard of care they deserve within our aged care facilities.”

In his introduction speech, Senator Hinch refers to international research that suggests higher registered nurse staffing levels, higher total staffing levels and a high skills mix (ratio of registered nurses to other nursing staff) are associated with better quality care.

He adds that this is what this amendment is seeking to do; to enhance the level provided by aged care facilities nation-wide; highlighting that in 2016, an average of 2.9 total care hours were worked per resident per day.

“The majority of aged care staff in Australia are personal care attendants or community care workers, with a declining share of registered nurses over the last decade or more,” Senator Hinch says.

“This Bill introduces the concept of a mandated ratio of skilled staff to care recipients in Australia’s aged care residential facilities.

“The task of calculating a safe and specific ratio, including providing for variables such as day and night shifts, higher and lower care residents, and for metropolitan, rural and regional areas, should be undertaken by the Department of Health in consultation with the aged care sector, and included in the quality of Care Principals.”

He finishes his speech by adding, “the passage of this Bill would be an important step in moving towards an aged care system that is more focussed on the protection of the elderly than on profit margins of aged care facilities”.

Federal secretary for the Australian Nursing and Midwifery Federation (ANMF) Lee Thomas shared the need for such an amendment, saying the ANMF’S national aged care workforce survey showed that 92 percent of nurses and carers are being asked to care for the same number of residents with less staff and less hours.

Ms Thomas adds that 90 percent also say current staffing levels aren’t adequate to provide essential daily care for residents.

“Our members keep warning that inadequate levels of registered and enrolled nurses and appropriately trained care workers means that the basic care they can provide, including feeding and bathing, is being significantly compromised,” she continues.

“Without mandated staffing or care hours in nursing homes, the Federal Government is allowing aged care providers to decide on what an ‘adequate’ level of care is and as we’ve recently seen in Queensland, some providers aren’t doing the right thing – sacking nurses and slashing hundreds of care hours.”

Ms Thomas says she and the ANMF thank Senator Hinch for standing up for older Australians and says he has “listened to the concerns of aged care workers” and says the ANMF will meet with Senator Hinch in the coming weeks to advocate the passing of the Bill through Parliament.

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