Peak nursing organisations condemn Morrison Government for failures in aged care

Close up of a senior man who has a chronic illness/Alzheimer's disease.

The country’s peak nursing organisations are standing together to condemn the Morrison Government for its failure to protect Australia’s nursing home residents, and the nurses and care workers doing their utmost in a sector that has been overwhelmed by COVID. And, at a time when the latest COVID outbreaks continue to claim lives in Australia’s nursing homes.

The organisations include the Australian Nursing and Midwifery Federation, the Australian College of Nursing, Australian Practice Nurses, the College of Nurse Practitioners, CRANAplus, Drug and Alcohol Nurses of Australia, Australian College of Operating Room Nurses and the Australian College of Mental Health Nurses.

The organisations have stated that the Government has overseen an escalating breakdown of aged care by:

  • Failing to plan for and ensure adequate surge workforce capacity
  • Failing to address dangerous staff shortages in aged care
  • Failing to act decisively on the findings of the Aged Care Royal Commission despite knowing the pain and suffering that chronic understaffing has caused across the sector for so many years.

Further, the latest Omicron wave has exacerbated the staffing crisis in Australia’s nursing homes and that COVID outbreaks have led to further staff shortages and dangerous workloads and exacerbated the breakdown in aged care with:

  • Basic care not being delivered including missed meals, clothing changes, bathing and wound care
  • Missed care episodes with residents forced to stay in their rooms
  • A depleted workforce with aged care nurses being physically and emotionally exhausted and burnt-out
  • Aged care residents having an unacceptably high rate of death from COVID with poor vaccination rollout and RAT access.

This is while the Ministers responsible for the sector have, astonishingly, deflected the responsibility for their Government’s failures onto aged care residents themselves with their claims that many residents are palliative or have underlying health conditions. These are the very reasons why people move into nursing homes and why they are at greater risk from COVID and therefore require increased protections, the organisations said.

The nursing organisations pointed out that the Morrison Government has abandoned aged care and is evident by the poor vaccination roll out and the Government’s failure to deliver booster vaccinations to all aged care residents and staff effectively.

They argued that despite the Government promising to roll-out RATs to nursing homes last August, many frontline staff still can’t access them, or even worse, have been forced to source and pay for their own RATs.

While acknowledging the poor pay of aged care workers, the Government’s cash payments are not sufficient to retain or recruit nurses to the industry, when what’s needed are permanent wage increases, they suggested.

Critically, they added that the Government had also dragged its feet on the introduction of mandated safe, minimum level of staffing in aged care, one of the Royal Commission’s most crucial Recommendations.

The organisations state that this situation is unacceptable and demonstrates once again that this Government neither understands aged care nor cares for those living and working in the system.

As we head to the federal election, the peak nursing organisations said that the Morrison Government must do so much more if we are to have any real hope of fixing the crisis in aged care.

In order to do this they recommend the following actions:

  1. A two week booster blitz in nursing homes across the country, using the offers of state services, the deployment of army health personnel and the use of nurse practitioners and other nurse vaccinators to achieve maximum booster coverage, including immediately removing MBS restrictions that disallow privately practising nurse practitioners from using their item numbers to provide COVID-19 vaccinations.
  2. As a stopgap measure, enable family and carers to visit their elderly to provide much-needed supplemental social and emotional support, as well as assistance with feeding, mobilising and diversional therapy. This as a humane measure, but also as a much needed supplement to the staff shortages in aged care.
  3. Provide funding for supplemental staff from agency and community care that is additional to current funding.
  4. In the longer term, provide appropriate staffing ratios and funding in accordance with the Royal Commission findings.

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