The adequacy of nursing staff levels in residential aged care facilities in NSW will be the focus of a new parliamentary inquiry, which will also consider the need for wider regulatory reform and minimum standards for personal carers.
The inquiry, launched on Thursday, will further investigate the impact of recent changes to the Aged Care Act on existing NSW legislation that requires a registered nurse be in charge and on duty at all times in a high-level care facility.
The future of this provision is currently the subject of sector consultation with the NSW Minister for Health, Jillian Skinner, with a report due to her office in July.
The Liberal NSW Government moved last year to grandfather existing arrangements until December 2015, while it sought advice from stakeholders.
The minimum staffing requirement applies to approximately 50 per cent of residential aged care facilities that meet the definition of a ‘nursing home’ in NSW.
The inquiry’s committee chair and Greens MP Jan Barham said a number of organisations have expressed concern over the potential consequences of a change to the NSW requirement, which prompted the parliamentary inquiry to examine the issue.
“Residents of aged care facilities are often vulnerable, and the residents and their families should be confident that they will receive the highest quality care possible,” said Ms Barham. “We hope that this inquiry will identify and address any gaps in the level and quality of care provided by nursing homes and other aged care facilities.”
Looking at wider issues of ratios, minimum qualifications
Significantly, the inquiry’s terms of reference will not only look at the registered nurse requirement, but will also investigate the overall adequacy of ‘nurse-to-patient ratios’ in residential aged care, and the regulation and minimum qualifications of care workers.
Over the past year, the NSW Nurses and Midwives’ Association has mounted a strong public campaign to prevent the removal of the RN legislative requirement in nursing homes and last week presented a petition of 10,000 signatures to Parliament.
As part of its health policy, the NSW Labor Party announced during the state election campaign its support for all NSW aged care facilities to have a registered nurse on duty at all times, which would be enshrined in law.
Other organisations such as Alzheimer’s Australia NSW and Cancer Council NSW have also written to the health minister expressing their concerns about the future arrangements for aged care staffing.
However, employer peak groups have argued that mandating a registered nurse to be employed at all times in all facilities would be unsustainable, especially in hard to staff areas, and a waste of limited nursing resources.
The federal aged care accreditation system also replaced the need for state-based legislation, which monitors industry compliance with quality care standards and appropriate staffing levels, the state aged care peaks have said.
NSW is currently the only state to stipulate a registered nurse on every shift in a high care facility.
However, Victoria, under its new Labor government, will become the first Australian state to legislate nurse-to-resident ratios in state-owned aged care facilities.
Submissions to the NSW inquiry close 23 July.
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