Commonwealth must follow NSW’s lead on registered nurse staffing in nursing homes

NSW Greens spokesperson on Ageing Jan Barham has called on the public to support a Commonwealth Senate inquiry into the aged care workforce.

“Last year I chaired a NSW Upper House Inquiry into registered nurses in nursing homes, which received unanimous support for regulation requiring nursing homes to have at least one registered nurse on duty at all times” said Ms Barham.

“Now the Commonwealth Senate is inquiring into the aged care workforce, led by Greens Senator Rachel Siewert.[i] I encourage the Senate Committee to review staffing standards in nursing homes, which our inquiry found were inadequate to ensure elderly, frail nursing home residents had access to registered nurse care around the clock.”[ii]

“The NSW Inquiry received overwhelming evidence from experts in the field including the Australian and New Zealand Society for Geriatric Medicine, the NSW Nurses and Midwives’ Association, Alzheimer’s Australia NSW, Council on the Ageing and Combined Pensioners and Superannuants Association that nursing homes need a registered nurse on duty at all times to ensure that residents receive high quality care.”

Ms Barham expressed concern about the lack of robust Commonwealth regulation governing staffing in an industry that is making record profits.

“Reports of some nursing homes recording a 40% surge in profits while face-to-face care hours dropped by 7% are cause for alarm. In 2014, research showed that residents received an average of just 5.2 hours of care from a registered nurse per fortnight.”[iii]

“We know that many nursing homes have replaced registered nurses with lower-skilled Assistants in Nursing and care workers even though resident care need is the highest it has ever been. This is placing residents at risk in cases where an emergency arises or the particular needs of high care residents are reliant on registered nurse care and supervision.”

Ms Barham said that while the NSW Inquiry found that nursing homes caring for high needs residents must have a registered nurse on duty at all times, exemptions could apply to small remote and rural nursing homes where it’s difficult to attract registered nurses.

“Some nursing home operators in remote and rural areas told our inquiry that it would be difficult to comply with a 24/7 registered nurse requirement. That’s why we recommended there be an exemption clause, which recognises the unique challenges facing such facilities.”

“But our inquiry was clear: Government must ensure nursing homes caring for high-needs residents have a registered nurse on duty 24/7 in the interests of resident safety.”

Submissions to the Commonwealth Senate inquiry close 4 March 2016.

For Further Comment, please contact Jan Barham directly on 0447 853 891

Jan-Barham. RN 247 CAMPAIGN


[i] Senate Community Affairs References Committee inquiry into the Future of Australia’s Aged Care Sector Workforce

[ii] Nursing homes are largely regulated by the Commonwealth under the Aged Care Act 1997. The Act does not require nursing homes to have a registered nurse on duty at all times. NSW mandates under the Public Health Act 2010 that nursing homes formerly known as ‘high care’ facilities be staffed by a registered nurse 24/7. This State requirement came under review after changes to the Aged Care Act removed the distinction between ‘high’ and ‘low’ care facilities, thus rendering the NSW requirement inoperable. The NSW Government is still reviewing its registered nurse requirement under the Public Health Act.

[iii] Paddy Manning ‘Profits rise, quality called into question in aged-care industry’ Crikey 15 January 2015, & Tom Allard ‘Nursing home profits soar as patient care declines’ Sydney Morning Herald 1 January 2016

NSW Legislative Council inquiry into registered nurses in New South Wales nursing homes: