Staffing is key to ending suffering in nursing homes

A Royal Commission into aged care that will investigate negligence, inadequate care and abuse will do little to fix the crisis plaguing the sector unless the government takes action to introduce mandated staffing ratios across the country’s nursing homes, the Australian Nursing and Midwifery Federation (ANMF) has argued.

“Every day that the government fails to act on the dangerous understaffing in nursing homes across the country is another day that vulnerable residents are still at risk,” ANMF Federal Secretary Annie Butler said.

“We can’t allow a Royal Commission to delay action from the government any longer. This government has had five years to fix the problems in aged care – they must stop the suffering now.”

Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced the Royal Commission in Canberra yesterday, saying he recently received information detailing the full extent of the aged care sector’s problems and felt compelled to act.

Flagged to run until at least the second half of next year, the Royal Commission will examine the quality of care provided to older Australians, the degree of substandard care, and the challenges of providing care to people with disabilities living in residential aged care.

It will also look at caring for the increasing number of Australians suffering dementia and addressing the system’s ability to deliver aged care services in the face of changing demographics.

Mr Morrison, who as treasurer presided over $1.2 billion in aged care funding cuts in the 2016 budget, said the government’s steps to improve the sector had uncovered a “disturbing trend” of non-compliance, abuse and failures of care occurring across the sector.

“I think we should brace ourselves for some pretty bruising information about the way our loved ones, some of them, have experienced some real mistreatment. And I think that’s going to be tough for us all to deal with.”

ANMF Federal Secretary Annie Butler said while the current aged care crisis warranted a Royal Commission, the sector’s problems had already been clearly identified over the past couple of decades through numerous reports and inquiries that resulted in insufficient action.

“Despite the very best efforts of dedicated aged care nurses and care workers, without minimum staffing ratios it just isn’t possible for them to deliver the care that elderly residents need,” Ms Butler said.

“Aged care providers receive billions of dollars annually in taxpayer funded subsidies but there is no law to guarantee this money is used to ensure safe and best practice care for every elderly Australian living in nursing homes.”

Yesterday’s Royal Commission announcement arrived on the eve of the ABC’s Four Corners Program screening a special two-part investigation into the failings in aged care, titled ‘Who Cares?’

Airing tonight, the investigation looks into the treatment of the elderly in aged care homes and speaks to aged care workers and families about the state of the sector.

Aged Care Minister Ken Wyatt, who in August declared he would rather spend funding on frontline aged care services than a Royal Commission likely to trigger predictable sets of recommendations, yesterday said he had changed his mind on the topic.

Mr Wyatt revealed an encounter with a woman unable to place her father into aged care contributed to his reconsideration on the need for a Royal Commission.

The Australian Medical Association (AMA) welcomed the launch of a Royal Commission into aged care, saying it hopes the investigation will lead to real reform of a sector neglected for decades.

AMA President, Dr Tony Bartone, said the AMA had for many years voiced its concerns about the quality of care being delivered to vulnerable older Australians and the lack of resourcing within the sector.

“There is a serious lack of resources. There is a serious lack of staff. And there is a serious lack of coordination between all the sectors involved in caring for older Australians,” Dr Bartone said.

“The AMA has made consistent and repeated approaches to government about the need for better resourcing and regulation of the aged care sector.

“The most recent AMA Aged Care Survey found that one in three doctors plan to cut back or completely end their visits to patients in residential aged care facilities over the next two years. The survey also found there are not enough suitably trained and experienced nurses in aged care.”

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