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Union, providers split on 24/7 RN coverage

The Australian Nursing and Midwifery Federation has revealed it is lobbying for regulations that would require at least one (RN) onsite and available at all times at nursing homes.

This is one of the major components of the ANMF's submission to the Senate Inquiry into the future of Australia's aged care workforce. The union has previously flagged its intention to submit several pointed suggestions to this Inquiry, as is also actively encouraging its members to raise their concerns.

ANMF federal secretary Lee Thomas said having RNs available 24/7 would ensure the dignity of older Australians is preserved.

“The rostering of an RN should be based on the high-care needs of patients, not on the discretion of the aged care facility’s operator,” Thomas said.

“It’s scandalous that on any given night at nursing homes across the country, a single care worker with minimal training can be looking after 30-50 frail, vulnerable patients with complex, chronic conditions and many with dementia."

The Inquiry is accepting submissions through March 4. The subject matter were mapped out in the terms of reference, released on December 1 last year, and include emerging issues such as the challenges of creating a proficient and inclusive industry to cater for the specific needs of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people; and lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex people.

Also under the microscope will be the how aged care is delivered in rural, regional and remote centres, as well as classical industrial relations matters like remuneration, working environment, staffing ratios, education and training and upskilling.

Thomas continued to say that, “RNs are essential in prescribing multiple medications, wound care and performing procedures and providing palliative care. The quality of care RNs deliver allows their patients to continue to be treated in nursing homes and avoid the need to be transferred to a hospital emergency department.

“The ANMF is calling on the Senate Inquiry to investigate [placing] RNs 24/7 at nursing homes to ensure older Australians get the dignity they deserve.

Illana Halliday, chief executive of Aged & Community Services (NSW & ACT), is opposed to such regulation. Her organisation represents not-for-profit and faith-based providers of residential and community care. She said the industry was not interested in reducing the number of nurses in aged care – "we want more nurses, not fewer," she declared – but argued the ANMF wanted to "waste" nurses by having them rostered at a time when most residents are asleep.

"It is just ridiculous to think we are going to remove nurses out of aged care," Halliday said. "We want nurses where and when they are needed. I would rather see three nurses available during the day, when residents are up and active, than at night, when they are not as active."

Halliday also raised the concern that for many low-care facilities, having RNs available 24/7 would be too prohibitive a cost to bear. She said this would lead to a $150 million funding shortfall in NSW.

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