Aged care royal commission told nursing homes understaffed, most would receive one-star rating
Updated October 14, 2019 19:59:55
More than half of Australian nursing homes are understaffed, with residents having less access to qualified nurses than ever before, the aged care royal commission has heard.
- The inquiry was told the aged care workforce had become less skilled despite a more frail population
- Personal care workers make up 70 per cent of nursing home staff, the commission was told
- Eighty-five per cent of the witnesses cited understaffing and a lack of trained staff as the major issue
A study of 5,000 aged care facilities instigated by the royal commission showed that most Australian facilities would score one star if a five-star rating system — used in the US and considered international best practice — was in force here.
The University of Wollongong researchers said raising the standard to an acceptable level of staffing would require an increase in total staff hours of 20 per cent across Australia.
To reach five stars — or best practice — would require an overall increase of almost 50 per cent.
A breakdown of workforce figures showed that the number of registered nurses has dropped from 25 per cent to 19 per cent over the past 12 years, while personal care workers, who previously made up 50 per cent of staff, now represent over 70 per cent.
“There are now less allied health professionals, there are less nurses, both nurse practitioners, registered nurses and enrolled nurses, all qualified nurses, and more staff with minimal training,” the author of the study, Kathy Eagar, told the hearing.
Professor Eagar, the director of the University of Wollongong’s Australian Health Services Research Institute, said it had been argued that aged care facilities should be less institutional and more homely.
She said that had allowed for the deskilling of the workforce, despite a much more frail population which required more clinical care than before.
“It has been an unholy set of interests that have come together to have a deskilled workforce,” she said.
Federal Government accused of failing to act
Understaffing and a lack of trained staff are the most vexed issues for the royal commission, with 85 per cent of witnesses citing it as a problem.
The Federal Government came under fire at the Melbourne hearing for failing to act on national reports and recommendations to fix the poor staffing and training of aged care workers.
An industry taskforce, announced by the Government a year ago to investigate the complex issues, has had its funding of $2.6 million cut by the new Aged Care Minister, Senator Richard Colbeck.
John Pollaers — who heads the Workforce Strategy Taskforce — said the industry was attempting to find solutions but the Government had not responded to requests for assistance to put in place recommendations from the taskforce.
“I got an email response that was all of the past programs of government and I went back and said ‘look, that isn’t sufficient, I’m asking for a step-by-step response.’ I didn’t get a response to that email,” Professor Pollaers said.
Professor Pollaers said he thought the Department of Health was not resourced well enough or had insufficient experience to deal with the complex issues around aged care.
“I was very surprised through the course of the work, the extent to which the Prime Minister and Cabinet were sitting on top of the minister with respect to these issues,” he said.
He suggested that the Government had another agenda, which was to pit the industry and unions against each other when it came to tackling the staffing issues in aged care.
“My sense is that the way that Government has positioned itself over the last few years is that, to the extent that this can be an industry issue and they can leave industry to deal with union, and then use the fragmentation as a reason to say ‘without one voice we don’t know what you’re asking’.”
Earlier the royal commission was rocked by the news of the death commission chair, Richard Tracey QC.
Mr Tracey, 71, died on Friday in California where he was receiving cancer treatment just seven weeks after he got a terminal diagnosis, the hearing was told.
Commissioner Lynelle Briggs described the news as “a complete shock and absolutely shattering”.
The hearing continues tomorrow with evidence from staff members.
First posted October 14, 2019 18:17:27