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Fresh push for minimum staffing requirements in residential care

There is little outright political backing for a bill introduced into the Senate to mandate minimum staff-to-resident ratios in aged care, although there is broad support to address the workforce issues it highlights.

Justice Party Senator Derryn Hinch introduced a private member’s bill on Wednesday to amend the Aged Care Act to introduce a mandated ratio of skilled staff to residents in all aged care facilities.

Derryn Hinch

He is proposing that the minimum “adequate and safe ratio” of appropriately skilled staff to care recipients be mandated in the Quality of Care Principles and based on the number of residents receiving care and the type and level of care provided at the facility.

The Aged Care Amendment (Ratio of Skilled Staff to Care Recipients) Bill 2017 is seeking “to enhance the level of care provided by aged care facilities nation-wide,” Mr Hinch told the Senate.

“The task of calculating a safe and specific ratio, including providing for variables such as day and night shifts, higher and lower care residents, and for metropolitan, rural and regional areas, should be undertaken by the Department of Health in consultation with the aged care sector, and included in the Quality of Care Principles,” he said.

Providers currently have an obligation to have sufficient appropriately skilled and qualified staff but the number is flexible to allow for differing care needs of residents and other characteristics of a facility such as its location.

During the bill’s second reading and debate on Thursday, Mr Hinch highlighted issues around quality of care and infection control as depicted in recent media reports and told the Senate he had received “damning emails from aged care workers saying things like ‘we are too scared to speak out about ratios, about what we see and what we know.’”

Political response

Although there is broad acceptance of the workforce issues and support for change, the Australian Greens and the government told AAA they would not back the bill while the Opposition and the Nick Xenophon Team did not offer a clear position.

Rachel Siewert

Australian Greens spokesperson for ageing Senator Rachel Siewert acknowledged Senator Hinch’s attempt to address the workforce issue but said the Australian Greens could not support the bill in its current form.

“The Australian Greens acknowledges that the current mix of aged care workers to clients in a lot facilities is too low and that this needs to be addressed,” Siewert told AAA.

“We urge the government to implement the recommendations in the Senate inquiry into the Future of Australia’s aged care sector workforce. At the very least there needs to be a registered nurse present in all aged care facilities at all times, 24/7,” Senator Siewert said.

Julie Collins

Similarly Shadow Minister for Ageing Julie Collins welcomed Senator Hinch’s input on the issue and noted the need for action.

“Labor supports the intent behind this bill to ensure adequate, safe and appropriately skilled aged care staffing,” Ms Collins told AAA.

“We welcome Senator Hinch’s engagement on this issue and will work with him, unions, providers and consumers to continue developing an evidence-based approach to aged care staffing.”

She chided the current government for “four years of inaction on aged care workforce development”, a point which the government disagreed with in its response.

Ken Wyatt

“The government will not be supporting the bill, as there are too many questions that remain unanswered, and we are already taking meaningful steps to tackle the key issues the bill seeks to address,” Minister for Aged Care Ken Wyatt told AAA.

He said the bill failed to identify how the mandatory staff ratio would be calculated or the additional costs that would be imposed on aged care providers or consumers, and did not take into account the unique workforce challenges faced by rural, regional and remote providers and the unintended consequences this bill could have on them.

Mr Wyatt pointed to aged care reviews underway and under consideration plus the $1.9 million it committed in May towards the development of an industry-led workforce strategy among the steps it was taking.

A spokesperson for the Nick Xenophon Team told AAA the party had not yet formalised a position on the bill.

Related coverage

Senate report will inform taskforce on aged care workforce: Wyatt

Senate proposes raft of aged care workforce measures

New study calls for improved staffing and skill mix in residential aged care

Budget: Funding for aged care workforce measures

Victorian Govt committed to mandating staff and keeping beds

Victoria to legislate ratios under Labor

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4 Responses to Fresh push for minimum staffing requirements in residential care

  1. maree wiseman September 12, 2017 at 1:02 pm #

    Yes, that would be right, trying to stall adequate care of our elderly once again! Good on you Derryn & shame, shame, shame on those putting the dollars first instead of treating our elderly humanly!!

  2. Mary Nola Viney September 13, 2017 at 1:32 pm #

    Good news Derryn Hinch and Julie Collins.
    Getting a Bill up in Parliament is a matter of content and finance.
    We have minimum staffing for Pre-school and schools, and at the other end when people are aged and have contributed a lifetime, they can be ignored.
    Shame on the other senators who are unable as yet to see themselves at this stage.
    There would be a song and dance if they could.
    High finance places of aged care possibly have sufficient staff, but in this have and have-nots society the larger number are not in wealthy institutions.

  3. Janet Pearce September 13, 2017 at 9:03 pm #

    Minimum staff to resident ratios in aged care will address many workforce issues, including high stress levels and improving the mental health of aged care workers who sincerely love working in aged care and deserve to be supported by adequate staffing levels to successfully provide good quality care.
    Yes, mandate in the Quality of Care Principles based on the number of residents receiving care and the type and level of care provided at the facility.
    Treat every older person as if they were our own mother or father.

  4. Wendy Smith September 14, 2017 at 8:59 am #

    This is a vital subject. Anyone with ANYTHING to do with Aged care know that nurse call buzzers are often going unanswered due to lack of staff on each shift. Our aged people have basic needs and rights that even prisoners are enjoying, but people in Residential Aged Care facilities are denied. They are being treated like this with out help. Please re-post if you wish to support our Aged citizens!

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