Call to put nursing back into aged care
Lawyers assisting the aged care royal commission say RNs – and nurse practitioners – should make up a greater proportion of the care workforce.
Senior counsel assisting the commission, Peter Rozen QC, said an RN should be present on each shift and available to direct or provide care subject to limited exceptions.
He told the commissioners that the proportion of RNs in the residential direct care workforce fell from 21 per cent in 2003 to 14.9 per cent in 2016 – a drop of more than 25 per cent.
The proportion of enrolled nurses dropped from 14.4 per cent to 9.3 per cent over the same period.
In contrast, the proportion of “unregistered and in many cases unqualified” personal care workers increased from 56.5 per cent to 71.5 per cent over the same period.
“To be clear, the care work that was performed by qualified nurses, physiotherapists, speech pathologists, etc. is now being performed by unqualified, unregistered and in many cases untrained personal care workers,” Mr Rozen said.
“It is hardly surprising in these circumstances that the royal commissioners have received thousands of submissions by members of the public complaining about the substandard care being provided in residential aged care.”
He said it may be no coincidence that the declining role of nurses in the aged care workforce has coincided with a change in name from the “comforting and familiar ‘nursing homes’ to the impersonal ‘residential aged care facilities’”.
“Perhaps it is time to accept that the term ‘nursing home’ was the right one all along.”
Mr Rozen said the federal government should provide “practical leadership” in aged care workforce reform including providing additional funding to implement the recommendations.
He also blasted the Department of Health for an apparent “lack of leadership and expertise about aged care”.
The “highest levels of the aged care bureaucracy” appeared to be “timid, risk averse (and) more worried about political risk than making a contribution to aged care reform”.