Victorian Labor has confirmed that its election policy to legislate nurse-to-resident ratios in Victorian aged care would apply to state-owned aged care facilities only and that the legislation would not stipulate the ratio.
Ahead of the 29 November state election, Victorian Opposition Leader Daniel Andrews announced on 30 October that a Labor Government would ensure Victoria became the first state in Australia to have nurse-to-patient and midwife-to-patient ratios in its hospitals and aged care enshrined in legislation.
Labor said it would legislate the ratios that existed in the nurses’ current enterprise agreement (2012-2016), and would consult with the Australian Nursing and Midwifery Federation (ANMF) about improving ratios over time.
Victoria’s shadow minister for ageing Jenny Mikakos told Australian Ageing Agenda that enshrining nurse-to-patient ratios in both public hospitals and aged care facilities would ensure patient care remained paramount and not have to be bargained for in future wage and conditions negotiations.
“We won’t set the ratios, but we will ensure that ratios exist in each care setting, so that fully qualified nurses and the highly skilled care they provide is a standard in public facilities. This will prevent ‘nurses assistants’ or other less qualified staff undertaking roles that should be done by nurses.
“Ratios were first implemented in Victoria, legislating them will be another national first, and this strong leadership in the public sector will keep setting the level of care Victorians want in their aged care across the whole system,” Ms Mikakos said.
Religious, charitable and private operators sectors make up the bulk of the state’s providers and as of March 2013 there were 191 public owned and operated aged care facilities in Victoria accounting for around 10 per cent of the state’s beds as at June 2013.
However, as previously reported, the Victorian Government is planning on selling off its metropolitan facilities.
Leading Age Services Australia Victoria issued a press release this morning expressing concern over the announcement, following a similar notification to its members yesterday.
LASA Victoria president Ingrid Williams said nurse-to-patient ratios were an inefficient and crude measure that was insensitive to aged care resident acuity and quality outcomes.
Ms Williams told AAA that while most of LASA Victoria’s members were from the church and charitable and private sector, the proposal would affect its 53 state-owned members.
On whether a legislated change would set a standard of care that would be emulated within the non-state part of the sector, Ms Williams said she didn’t think nurse resident ratios were the issue.
“It is about having an appropriate workforce to care for the residents and obviously residents’ needs change from one day to the next and it is about having that flexibility.
“It is about appropriate numbers and, from our perspective, we don’t want to be locked into a framework that may not necessarily meet the needs.
“We don’t believe the … non-state sector have a lower level of quality of care. Our services have a high quality of care with the staffing that they have got,” Ms Williams said.
Ms Williams said aged care facilities were regularly monitored in relation to human resources management through the accreditation system to ensure they had appropriate numbers of qualified staff.
The other thing to consider, she said, was the cost impost of a large number of nurses to residents that obviously a Victorian Labor government was prepared to wear.
“If that cost in the private or church and charitable sector gets transferred to residents and their families then I don’t see that being a tolerable situation for them, given the reform changes and the fact that user pays is a much stronger part of the cost of care in facilities,” Ms Williams.
The ANMF said it welcomed the proposal to enshrine in law the ratios that served to guarantee the minimum number of qualified nurses or midwives on each shift to ensure high quality patient care and safety.
“It would be an historic win for nurses and midwives to have our safe ratios enshrined in legislation, and never have to be fought for again,” said Lisa Fitzpatrick, ANMF Victorian branch secretary.
The current enterprise agreement, which is due for renegotiation in 2016, requires major metropolitan hospitals to roster ratios of one nurse to four patients during day and one nurse to eight patients overnight, with different ratios in place for maternity units, regional hospitals special care nurseries, aged care and emergency departments.