The nursing union’s campaign for mandated nurse-to-resident ratios in aged care has gained a new Parliamentary ally, with Senator Glenn Lazarus, Leader of the Palmer United Party (PUP) in the Senate, set to lobby the federal health and social services ministers over the issue.
A spokesperson for Senator Lazarus confirmed to Australian Ageing Agenda that he would be raising the issue with Federal Health Minister Susan Ley at a meeting today, as well as with Assistant Minister for Social Services Mitch Fifield.
Senator Lazarus was in favour of mandated nurse ratios in various areas of the health system, including aged care, the spokesperson said.
The Australian Nursing and Midwifery Federation (ANMF) said yesterday it was “heartened by a commitment” by Senator Lazarus that he supported the union’s campaign for mandated staffing levels in aged care.
ANMF federal secretary Lee Thomas and assistant federal secretary Annie Butler met with Senator Lazarus on Monday to discuss the union’s concerns that “a lack of nurse-to-patient staffing ratios was compromising the amount of quality care being provided to elderly, vulnerable people living in nursing homes.”
In their meeting with Senator Lazarus the union had outlined “the staffing crisis in aged care and the urgent need to address this at a time when there is a current shortfall of 20,000 nurses in the sector,” Ms Thomas said.
“The senator appreciated these concerns and the lack of quality care in some nursing homes because of poor staffing, as these issues had also been raised by community members in his home state of Queensland,” she said.
Responding to the latest push for ratios, Leading Age Services Australia (LASA) restated its opposition to their use in aged care.
“LASA supports a qualified and skilled aged services workforce, with adequate numbers to address the growing and diverse needs of Australia’s ageing population,” CEO Patrick Reid told AAA.
“Just as the needs of residents differ, so do the size and structure of providers. LASA supports high quality care but does not support ratios as they are not responsive to the changing acuity of residents or the varied models of care provided across the industry. It is also important to remember that, based on consumer demand, the predominant future case setting will be home care, where a flexible, blended workforce will be required.”
Nurse ratios in aged care have been a long-standing debate in the sector. While unions have campaigned for their introduction, aged care providers have argued there is a lack of evidence to show they are effective in raising standards or outcomes.
The Productivity Commission decided against recommending ratios in its landmark 2011 report into aged care.
It found a staff ratio in aged care would be a “relatively blunt instrument”, given the resident profile would be ever changing. “Such ratios become particularly problematic for small facilities, and a rigid application of ratios could create operational difficulties for these facilities,” the PC found.
It further noted that the accreditation process provided a means for “encouraging providers to apply an appropriate skills mix and staffing level in the delivery of community and residential aged care services.”
Meantime, in Victoria, the recently elected Labor Government is set to become the first in Australia to legislate for ratios in public hospitals and state-owned aged care facilities.
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