The New South Wales Government risks continued poor quality in the state’s aged care homes if it waits for the new Aged Care Act to enact the recommendations of a recent inquiry, an aged care researcher warns.

A NSW Government upper house cross-party committee made five findings and seven recommendations in its report examining registered nurses and other aspects of the state’s aged care homes.

“We heard that chronic under-funding, combined with the COVID-19 pandemic has put an increasing burden on nursing and personal care staff,” committee chair Courtney Houssos wrote in the report.

Courtney Houssos

The committee recommended the state mandate registered nurses in aged care homes at all times and at the appropriate level based on the number of residents and that it call on the Commonwealth to fund and mandate appropriate levels of RNs, personal care workers and allied health professionals.

However, a dissenting statement in the report from Liberal and National committee members recommends that NSW waits for the changes expected in the new Aged Care Act from mid-2023.

Charles Sturt University community engagement lead Associate Professor Maree Bernoth said the recommendations should be implemented immediately or residents would have to put up with inadequate care for another two years.

“Things will go on as we heard in the royal commission, things will just continue and proprietors are off the hook. The scrutiny is off them now,” Associate Professor Bernoth told Australian Ageing Agenda.

“Do we want the status quo in our aged care facilities to remain as it has been and as was revealed in the Royal Commission? Do we want that to continue for two years?” said Associate Professor Bernoth, an Associate Professor of nursing at Charles Sturt School of Nursing, Midwifery and Indigenous Health.

Associate Professor Maree Bernoth

Many residents in aged care are frail and their lifespan may not be two years, she said.

“It’s frightening because these are the Liberal and National party members. They’re the government. They have the majority, and they have the ability to ensure that the dissenting statement is enacted,” she said.

The easy option is for the state government to wait for the new Aged Care Act, she said.

“A courageous way is to make changes now even if they were only made for the two years and then  reviewed after the Aged Care Act comes out. We can’t wait,” Associate Professor Bernoth said. “If we really care for older citizens, then it’s now.”

Report recommendations optimistic

Associate Professor Bernoth said she supported the recommendations in the report particularly for staff-to-resident ratios.

“The proprietors are making decisions based on profits and they don’t have the clinical understanding to know what sort of skill mix is required for their residents. The ratios provide us with a safety net so that we do have some assurance that staff with the appropriate knowledge and skills are there to provide safe care for older people,” she said.

It was also positive the committee acknowledged the need for aged care homes to cater to the specific needs of Aboriginal people and residents from culturally and linguistically diverse communities, she said.

Associate Professor Bernoth also welcomed the recommendation for the NSW Government to analyse the cost-shifting that occurs in the state’s public health system due to aged care homes failing to have an RN on duty.

“There’s some real positive things here and it indicates that the committee has listened to the people who have provided information to them,” she said.

Access the report.

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