The provision of an on-duty nurse is vital to ensure quality care in aged care facilities, says Nambucca Shire Council general manager.
The provision of an on-duty nurse is vital to ensure quality care in aged care facilities, says Nambucca Shire Council general manager. Patrick Gorbunovs

Nurses 'vital' at all times to care for aging population

HEALTH workers across New South Wales are making a last-minute appeal to keep registered nurses on duty at all times in aged care facilities.

Potential changes to staffing requirements for high care nursing homes will soon come under the scope of a parliamentary inquiry, with only a week left for stakeholders to make submissions.

Nambucca Shire Council has been the only North Coast local government to throw its support behind the NSW Nurses and Midwives' Association push to ensure nurses are kept on 24-hour duty.

This is despite predictions the North Coast's over-65 population will increase to 180,550 or 30% of residents by 2031.

Nambucca Shire Council general manager Michael Coulter said the provision of an on-duty nurse was vital to ensure quality care was given "to our most vulnerable population".

Combined Pensioners and Superannuants Association spokeswoman Charmaine Crowe also made a submission pleading for the status quo to be maintained.

She told the inquiry abandoning the requirement for registered nurses would only put the care of high-needs patients at risk.

"If there is no registered nurse on duty, many nursing home residents are often sent to hospital emergency departments for treatment because other care staff are unable to provide the high-skilled care they need onsite," Ms Crowe said.

An Australian Institute of Health and Welfare 2013 study found 82% of residents in aged care were considered "high care".

Older Women's Network CEO Karen Martin said she was shocked the government would consider mandating fewer nurses, instead of more.

"We are astounded that it is currently acceptable for aged care providers to make available only one registered nurse to up to 120, and in some instances more, vulnerable aged care residents," Ms Martin said.

"We don't accept that these proposed changes are being driven by a lack of registered nurses prepared to enter the industry.

"We do believe, however, that the existing high registered nurse to resident ratios are a significant disincentive to any registered nurse considering a move to aged care."

Cancer Council NSW CEO Jim L'Estrange said the removal of properly trained nursing staff would cause unnecessary distress to patients dying of cancer.

"A Cancer Institute NSW study in 2007 showed that approximately 9% of cancer patients died in a nursing home," he said.

"It is likely that, before their death, these people received some care from a registered nurse.

"The availability of a registered nurse may also result in a dying patient avoiding a potentially distressing transfer to hospital, which also benefits the health system by avoiding the costs associated with using a hospital bed unnecessarily."

Submissions can be made until Thursday, July 23 at http://www.parliament.nsw.gov.au.

APN NEWSDESK


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