‘Systemic, chronic understaffing’ endemic in elderly care say Australian nurses unions
SYSTEMATIC, chronic understaffing leading to unacceptable instances of neglect, abuse, and too many preventable deaths,’ was cited as endemic in ‘aged care’ by the leader of Australia’s nurses on Monday.
The Australian Medical Association (AMA) and the Australian Nursing and Midwifery Federation (ANMF) issued a joint demand to the Federal Government that it act now to guarantee quality and safety in aged care.
A Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety has already identified serious and dangerous shortcomings in the system, and more concerns will surface before the Commission delivers its final recommendations in November 2020.
The AMA and the ANMF said they fully support the work of the Royal Commission, but warned that older Australians in aged care, and their families and loved ones, cannot wait another year.
Care can’t wait
The AMA and the ANMF demand immediate and effective improvement to aged care, especially with ensuring a safe and quality skills mix of medical, nursing, and care staff, by providing:
- mandatory minimum staff-to-resident ratios, including ensuring sufficient skilled nurses in residential aged care facilities (RACFs);
- increased GP aged care Medicare rebates for patients to facilitate enhanced medical practitioner care of aged care residents; and
- expanded home care investment to allow more older people stay longer in their own homes and relieve pressure on residential aged care services.
AMA President, Dr Tony Bartone, said: ‘We have to put care back into aged care.
‘Older Australians deserve to have the same opportunity to have the best quality of life as everyone else, and the same access to high quality medical and nursing care they have enjoyed throughout their long and productive lives.
‘Standards of care for our elderly should not be compromised through restriction of resources or the budget bottom line.
‘The government cannot stand by and watch aged care providers continue to provide poor quality care because they are deemed “too big to fail”.
‘Ignoring the health and care needs of older Australians will lead to an increase in avoidable hospitalisations and excessive costs to the health system.
‘The aged care system urgently needs a safe and quality skills mix of medical, nursing, and care staff.
‘The increased presence of doctors as part of the care team is vital.’
ANMF Federal Secretary, Annie Butler, said: ‘Older Australians deserve affordable, high-quality aged care services, with timely access to a range of appropriate health professionals, and in residential facilities, with care delivered by the right numbers of professionally trained nurses and care staff.
‘They do not deserve the pain and suffering too many are currently experiencing nor do they deserve to continue to be ignored by their country’s government, which is meant to ensure their safety.
‘The often-horrific evidence presented to the Royal Commission and stories revealed in recent Four Corners and other media programmes are simply confirming what ANMF members have known for many years and are reporting to us with increasing despair.
‘Underpinning so many of the problems that are being exposed across the aged care sector is systemic, chronic understaffing, leading to unacceptable instances of neglect, abuse, and too many preventable deaths.
‘We can’t wait for the Morrison government to act on recommendations of the Royal Commission to stop the suffering of our elderly.
‘We simply cannot allow the government to continue to sit idly on the sidelines and watch the extent of this suffering unfold.
‘There is no need to wait; the government can start taking action now.
‘We need more nurses and more doctors in aged care. Legislated minimum staff ratios in nursing homes are needed urgently.
‘Registered nurses must be available 24 hours a day, and there must be enough well-trained care workers to support the delivery of quality care.
‘General practitioners must be supported to attend nursing homes to ensure quality medical care for elderly Australians.
‘We also need to guarantee that taxpayer-funded subsidies received by aged care providers go directly to the provision of care to ensure safe and best practice care for every elderly Australian living in nursing homes.
‘The government can start on this immediately by requiring aged care providers to publish the staffing ratios in their facilities and to transparently report on their use of publicly-funded subsidies.
‘The government can then determine where additional funding is needed and ensure that it is provided.
‘While a range of actions and improvements are needed to improve the safety and quality of care across Australia’s aged care sector, it is certain that safe, quality care cannot be guaranteed without mandated minimum safe staffing levels.’
Summary of reforms proposed by the AMA and the ANMF
General funding increase
An increase in funding for aged care and increased transparency in the use of funding. Insufficient funding is the reason behind qualified staff shortages. A lack of registered nurses means that medication mistakes are made. Insufficient funding is why the food is terrible. Insufficient funding is why facilities aren’t purpose-built.
Minimum mandatory staff-to-resident ratios, which reflect the level of care need of older people, should be introduced in RACFs
Registered nurses should be available on-site, 24 hours a day in RACFs to ensure older peoples’ medical needs are adequately met, including the appropriate administration of medicines. That way unnecessary hospitalisations, unnecessary transfers and extended hospital stays would be avoided.
GP Medicare rebates
Increase the number of GPs working in aged care.
The number of GPs willing to work in the aged care space has been reducing due to low Medicare rebates and the declining proportion of registered nurses in aged care.
Medicare rebates need to increase in excess of 50 per cent to begin to adequately compensate for the additional time and complexity involved in comparison to a GP attendance in their own consulting rooms.
Home care packages
Government needs to increase the funding for home care packages (HCPs), most importantly for Level 4 packages. Many older people prefer to age in their own homes or community. For this reason, ensuring access to primary, home and community care should be a priority.
As of June 2019, there were 119,524 older people waiting for their assessed home care package.
The Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety reported that 16,000 people died waiting for a home care package.
Waiting times are more than 12 months. This is not good enough.
Australia is facing an ageing population with more chronic, complex medical conditions than ever before.
It is estimated that by 2039 Australia will have 4.7 million people over the age of 70, two million more than currently, and over one million people over the age of 80.
- The cuts to public transport keep coming as South Australia’s Marshall government ‘fattens the cow’ ready for impending privatisation.
Rail, Tram and Bus Union (RTBU) SA/NT Secretary Darren Phillips on Monday said the state government had removed security guards from night-time Grange train services, and had plans to remove them from all evening train services.
‘Removing security guards from trains will put the safety of passengers and staff at risk.
‘This is simply about cost-cutting to make the privatisation of services more attractive for potential private operators.’
Phillips said the government has failed to consider the impact of these cuts on rail patronage.
‘Passenger services assistants and security guards were introduced to all services after 7pm in the early 2000s.
‘The resulting increase to patronage led to additional half hourly services being scheduled.
‘With the removal of security guards, passengers will inevitably feel less safe and secure, and less likely to travel by rail.
‘Of course, we can expect Transport Minister Stephan Knoll to cynically use the fall in patronage caused by these cuts as a justification for bringing in private operators.
‘The Marshall Liberal government thinks passengers are a few cents short of a fare, but the reality is that the community can see straight through their disingenuous spin.’
Phillips said a public rally opposing the Marshall government’s privatisation agenda will be held at 11am at Parliament House on Sunday 13 October.
‘Come the rally, say no to cuts, and say no to privatisation,’ Phillips said.