The Australian Nursing and Midwifery Federation (ANMF) has called on the federal government to urgently implement its five-point action plan to protect elderly Australians living in nursing homes from further COVID-19 outbreaks.
ANMF Federal Secretary Annie Butler, who gave evidence at the Aged Care Royal Commission yesterday, said the tragedy unfolding in Victoria’s private aged care homes demonstrated a lack of leadership from the federal government and failure to adequately prepare the sector to deal with the pandemic.
“As there is no vaccine or definitive treatment for COVID-19 yet, it’s critically important that the sector’s focus is on preparedness, which means prevention and control, rather than just focusing on how to respond once an outbreak has occurred,” Ms Butler said.
“While the sector continues to require wholescale and widespread reform to fix the crisis that existed before the pandemic, there are several key actions the government can implement immediately to ensure our elderly are better protected.”
The ANMF’s five-point action plan for aged care includes:
- Stop any further cuts to nursing and care
Inexplicably, throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, 64% of ANMF members surveyed reported staff cuts and nursing and care hour reductions in some nursing homes, diminishing care for residents and putting the lives of the elderly at further risk during the crisis.
- Additional staffing with the right skills
Ensure sufficient numbers of qualified staff with the right skills mix and mandate minimum nursing/care hours, to properly prepare a suitably-skilled workforce in the event of further infection outbreaks.
- Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)
Ensure sufficient supplies of PPE and clear guidance, education and training for all aged care staff from an infection control expert and ensure infection control expertise is available at every nursing home.
- Paid Pandemic Leave
Guarantee paid pandemic leave for all workers who need to stay home because they need to get tested and self-isolate due to exposure to COVID-19 or they’re feeling unwell. This is a critical measure in preventing further spread of COVID-19 in workplaces across the community.
- Accountability/transparency for government funding
Ensure that aged care providers are actually using additional taxpayer funds for its intended purposes – providing additional staff and skills, guaranteeing PPE and other critical resources, and that incentive payments intended for aged care workers are reaching them.
Ms Butler said aged care providers must employ sufficient numbers of qualified nurses and carers with the right mix of skills in order to be prepared to fight a COVID-19 outbreak with a skilled surge workforce.
Staff must have access to sufficient supplies of PPE proper infection prevention and control education and training, including time to practise those skills under the guidance and supervision of an infection control expert, she added.
Ms Butler also stressed the importance of strong clinical leadership at all levels of aged care, from on the ground right up to Boards of Directors, and argued decisions about clinical care for the elderly should be made by clinical experts.
“Since the start of the pandemic, the ANMF has written and been in contact with the Aged Care Minister, Richard Colbeck, on at least eight occasions, offering our help and advice on the mounting issues plaguing the aged care sector, particularly around inadequate staffing and shortages of PPE and other workforce support measures,” Ms Butler said.
“Unfortunately, the government has not responded and has not implemented actions which may have provided better protections for elderly Australians. The untold grief and trauma that too many have already had to experience cannot be undone, but the government has the power, and the responsibility, to take our advice and act immediately on our action plan. We are calling on the Morrison Government to work with us to fix the crisis in aged care.”