Royal commission anniversary: missed care and despair

Australian Nursing and Midwifery Federation (Victorian Branch)

ANMF will hold community rallies outside the electorate offices of Chisholm MP Gladys Liu (140 Burwood Highway, Burwood) and Monash MP Russell Broadbent (46C Albert Street, Warragul) at 11.30am, Tuesday 1 March 2022 to highlight the Morrison Government’s failure to fix aged care.

Working in Victoria’s private residential aged care during the recent COVID outbreak was like working in a ‘war zone’ with unattended residents ‘coughing, gasping and vomiting’, according to nurses and personal care workers.

Some residents are missing out on almost an hour and a half of care time every day based on Victorian nurses’ union calculations comparing the aged care royal commission’s daily minimum care time recommendations with the actual rostered care being delivered.

The Australian Nursing and Midwifery Federation (Victorian Branch) surveyed its 16,000 private aged care members – registered nurses, enrolled nurses and personal care workers – between 14 and 17 February 2022.

Almost 5000 members responded to the survey within four days with some describing their work as ‘hell’ that they were not ’emotionally prepared for’.

More than 70 per cent of respondents said staffing levels and resident care were worse now than on 1 March 2021 when Prime Minister Scott Morrison released the aged care royal commission final report and recommendations.

Missed resident care includes resident hygiene, mental health needs, social needs and mobility issues (including falls), wound care and medication management.

The aged care royal commission recommended residents receive a daily minimum of three hours and 20 minutes (200 minutes) of nursing and personal care by July 2022.

According to ANMF calculations one 126-bed facility, in the northern suburbs, would require an extra 22 staff every day to meet the royal commission’s recommendation of 200 daily care minutes.

ANMF (Vic Branch) Assistant Secretary Paul Gilbert said: ‘We knew things were really bad in Victoria’s private aged care but the level of missed resident care and despair is soul destroying.’

‘If you’re unable to help a gasping resident in the corridor because there are too many other competing resident priorities and tasks something is seriously wrong with your staffing levels.

‘A resident who presses their buzzer for pain relief tonight can’t wait until after the next election for their morphine,’ Mr Gilbert said, ‘They are suffering now.’

‘Shift after shift nurses and carers are experiencing extreme moral distress because they don’t have enough hands or enough time to make sure residents receive the care they need.

‘Residents are not getting food, hydration, medication, wound care, bathroom assistance, pain relief, a soothing word or more formal mental health care – when they need it,’ Mr Gilbert said.

Of those 70 per cent of respondents who reported fewer staff, 99 per cent said understaffing was also compromising their own safety and mental health.

‘All Australians should understand the shame that is our aged care system and demand it is urgently fixed – don’t turn away because it’s hard to look at and think about,’ Mr Gilbert said.

‘Aged Care Services Minister Richard Colbeck won’t acknowledge the crisis because he says that’s blaming the staff.

‘Denial and refusal to take responsibility for a systemic crisis of the Morrison Government’s making is further hurting the understaffed aged care nurses and personal care workers they’ve abandoned,’ he said.

‘Don’t buy the government’s workforce shortage smokescreen – it would be a good start if providers simply offered secure, full-time work to existing staff and stopped cutting hours and shifts.

‘More staff on every shift and the right mix of registered nurses, enrolled nurses and personal care workers will mean families can be confident their loved ones are receiving safe, dignified and even restorative care,’ he said, ‘And nurses and carers will not be confronted with war-zone-like working conditions’.

What did the royal commission recommend?

The Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety recommended that by 1 July 2022, providers will have to engage enough staff for at least 200 care minutes per resident per day, adjusted for the needs of each resident. In addition, at least one registered nurse must be on site for the morning and afternoon shifts (16 hours per day).

The Morrison Government has postponed implementation of staffing recommendations until after the election.

‘Staff’ includes registered nurses, enrolled nurses, assistants in nursing and personal care workers. At least 40 minutes of that time must be provided by a registered nurse (RN).

From 1 July 2024, the royal commission recommended the minimum increases to at least 215 minutes per resident per day on average, with at least 44 minutes provided by an RN. At least one RN is to be on site at all times. The Morrison Government has not adopted these recommendations.

Instead of trying to reach these targets, providers are allowed to reduce their nursing and personal care staff.

ANMF has tried to increase staffing levels through enterprise bargaining negotiations, but providers say their hands are tied until they have federal laws telling them they must roster mandated minimum nurses and carers.

Victoria’s almost 180 public aged care facilities have state legislated mandated nurse/resident ratios – 1 nurse to 7 residents (morning shift), 1 nurse to 8 residents (afternoon shift) and one nurse to 15 residents (night shift). Media

/Public Release.