Pressure mounts for minimum nurse ratios

While the ANMF says the recommendations from the Senate Inquiry into the aged care workforce should result in minimum nurse and staffing requirements in residential aged care, the Minister for Aged Care, Ken Wyatt AM has made it clear the findings will be just one piece of the national workforce strategy puzzle.

ANMF Federal Secretary Lee Thomas said the ANMF was pleased the Committee finally acknowledged ongoing concerns about dangerously-low nurse to resident staffing levels and the need for minimum nurse requirements to meet the ever-increasing demands for care following the release of the report earlier this week.

The Committee found current nurse ratios were “too low and risked compromising the quality of care delivered” and recommended providers publish their workforce ratios “in order to facilitate informed decision making by aged care consumers.”

The Inquiry received over 325 Submissions, many of which were confidential or name withheld due to the extremely sensitive nature of the evidence.

“All this evidence, on top of report after report into aged care, must now be enough for the Aged Care Minister to accept the Committee’s recommendations and fix the crisis in aged care and improve the lives of vulnerable, elder Australians living in nursing homes,” Ms Thomas said.

“Only last week, a damning report by the Australian Law Reform Commission revealed that the lack of minimum staffing regulations and appropriate skills mix have resulted in the abuse of elderly, vulnerable nursing home patients.”

“It found that the proportion of registered and enrolled nurses has decreased and the proportion of Assistants in Nursing/Personal Care Workers (AIN/PCW) has increased – 70 per cent of direct care workers in residential care are now AIN/PCW, some of whom have no minimum training qualifications.”

“Another report shows that the number of deaths in nursing homes from preventable causes has increased by 400 per cent over the past 13 years.”

The Committee has recommended that the National Workforce Strategy, which was allocated $2 million for development in the 2017 Budget, includes a minimum number of qualified nurses working in aged care, along with an added recommendation that the Government consider requiring aged care service providers to publish their staff to client ratios.

“We think this is an excellent initiative which will make the sector become safer and more transparent and make providers more accountable. After all, the families of nursing home residents have a right to know the level of care they can expect to receive.”

ACSA CEO, Pat Sparrow said the bigger issue remains funding and whether both providers and Government are prepared to take action.

“Our industry takes seriously its role to lead this work and engage with Government and key stakeholders,” she said.

“The taskforce being set up to oversee the development of an aged care workforce strategy will play a critical role in shaping the national landscape but also in identifying local approaches, successful programs and opportunities for collaboration, building capability and sustainability. Research and evidence should underpin future strategies.”

“Regulation has a role to play but consideration of new regimes to be applied to the industry need to be considered in the context of the aged care reform roadmap, and funding and pricing limitations still applied by Government,” Ms Sparrow said.

“New funds for wages, redesigned roles and career paths and any additional regulatory requirements need to be available to the sector either through increased consumer contributions and/or increasing Government investment.”

“Is the community ready for a conversation about paying more themselves and/or through the tax system and do we have the leadership in our parliament to go beyond the problems to solutions that only new revenue can offer?”


  1. I endorse Pat Sparrow’s comments; further, I have always believed and acted on the belief as a Manager, Senior Manager and Board member in the aged care industry; that the work is a ‘specialty’ and should be recognised as such, especially by governments and educational institutions. As a society we would not think of committing our children to a paediatric care situation without the appropriate qualified health professional coverage. As a society we would insist proper funding and would also be prepared to pay for such coverage. Why should it be different for care of equally if not more vulnerable members of the community, most of whom have complex care needs, not just ‘frailty’ which one might consider part of normal ageing. The issues of what is considered adequate staff and adequately qualified staff have their origin in societal values. What society values, it is prepared to both ensure governments appropriately fund and it is prepared to also enter into meaningful co payment. As a society it is questionable whether we value our elderly in this way; and in my view we must confront this in ourselves.
    As far as I know there is no provider ( at least those that I have ever come into contact with) that would object to minimum staff ratio’s and minimum qualified health professional ratios. It is paying for them in the current funding models that would prove difficult if not impossible. Did we not just see the government complaining bitterly that their budget estimates for aged care subsidy funding had blown out, and hence we have a freeze on indexation this coming financial year. What does that say about the government’s recognition of the real care needs of those who spend their last days in residential aged care. The government ‘blamed’ the providers ( yet again) as rorting the funding system, when they could have penalised those that they actually had evidence to support were doing this.
    They could also have introduced minimum staffing ratios to ensure that the funding levels achieved were spent as they should have been spent, in what is now more than ever, a medical specialty.


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