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Proponents rally to keep RNs in aged care

Union members, community groups, local government representatives and aged-care workers gathered outside NSW Parliament last week ahead of a debate on the future of registered nurses in NSW nursing homes.

Prior to the scheduled parliamentary debate on a petition of more than 10,000 signatures that was presented back in June, community representatives rallied outside Parliament House, with speakers including aged-care professionals and palliative care advocates.

General secretary of the NSW Nurses and Midwives’ Association, Brett Holmes, said attendees highlighted the importance of retaining the current requirement for RNs to be on duty at all times in NSW nursing homes.

Holmes said: “The requirement for registered nurses to be employed 24/7 in our state’s nursing homes, and for a director of nursing to be appointed, is vital to ensure high-quality care is being afforded to some of the most vulnerable people in our community.

“The comprehensive evidence and widespread community support for this legal requirement to stay in place should be crystal clear for the NSW health minister.”

Speakers discussed their first-hand experiences of aged care in NSW. Margaret Zanghi, president of the Quality Aged Care Action Group, said she was at the rally because for three years she visited her husband in a nursing home daily and became aware of the complex health conditions of residents.

“After that period was over, I was motivated to become involved in making people aware of the situation in nursing homes and to advocate for quality aged care,” Zanghi said.

Lucille McKenna, a director of nursing in aged care, also spoke at the event. She said there were few safety nets in aged care and she doesn’t want to lose the only safeguard available.

“We don’t have any mandated staffing hours, we don’t have any ratios, we only have one safety net, and that is that we have a registered nurse on duty 24 hours a day,” McKenna said. “To even consider taking that away, I think, is totally unsatisfactory.”

She added that the community expects to have a registered nurse in nursing homes and emphasised how much they are relied on. “We actually call on the registered nurses to assess residents many times a day, to make assessments after falls, to decipher issues with medication, to talk to doctors,” she said.

McKenna also echoed a point Holmes raised, that a lack of registered nurses in aged care will have a flow-on effect for the health system. “There will be many, many more people in the waiting rooms and the emergency rooms of our large public hospitals,” she said.

An Upper House inquiry was launched in June 2015 into registered nurses in NSW nursing homes, with the committee due to hand down its report by the end of October. A further 14,000 petition signatures were handed over to local state MPs in Dubbo, Tweed and Wagga Wagga early last week.

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