In September, Senator Rex Patrick tabled a private member’s bill, the Aged Care Amendment (Registered Nurses Ensuring Quality Care) Bill 2021. This bill is in line with recommendation 86 from the Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety’s final report, which stipulates a requirement for the 24/7 on-site presence of a registered nurse in every aged care facility by 1 July 2024. It seeks to bring the start date forward, however.
When introducing the bill, Senator Patrick said he was concerned aged care residents are not getting the care they need. ‘Proper care for our elderly is critical and it requires aged care homes to have registered nurses on site at all times. We must also recognise that a lack of properly qualified staff negatively impacts the staff as well.’
Recognising the wider issue of chronic understaffing and skills shortages in the sector, Senator Patrick said the bill requiring aged care facilities to have a registered nurse present at all times ‘will raise the level of care to residents, will attract and retain new graduate nurses and increase the skilled workforce to provide the required levels of supervision and support.’
Senator Patrick’s bill proposes several amendments to the Morrison Government’s Aged Care and Other Legislation Amendment (Royal Commission Response No. 2) Bill 2021, responding to the royal commission. It has the support of Labor MP and former ANMF (Vic Branch) President and Federal ANMF Secretary Ged Kearney, who is scathing in her assessment of the government’s bill.
‘Labor believe these workers should be paid more … and there should be more of them. The Leader of the Opposition has made it clear that we will support minimum staffing levels and an RN on every shift.’
Speaking in the House of Representatives on 20 October, Ms Kearney said ‘I know aged-care facilities. I know aged-care workers. I know the nurses who work in the system. It’s clear to everyone I speak to that this government doesn’t have a clear and considered plan to address the pressures that they are under, and – oh my goodness – those pressures are enormous! We are in an aged-care workforce crisis.’
Elaborating, she added ‘Just this week, I met with many aged-care workers – ANMF members, my old union’s members – and they were crying, some of them, telling us the care that they could not deliver to the elderly people in their nursing homes’ due to understaffing.
‘Aged-care workers are the crucial backbone of the system. They are mostly women, I might add, and they are exhausted. They are stretched. They are under-resourced. They are actually traumatised from the past year and a half, when their system has been pushed to breaking point and they, themselves, have been pushed to breaking point … Labor believe these workers should be paid more, and we’re supporting the HSU and the ANMF’s pay case before the Fair Work Commission right now – and there should be more of them. The Leader of the Opposition has made it clear that we will support minimum staffing levels and an RN on every shift.’
Senator Patrick’s bill reflects Victorian Independent MP Helen Haines’ earlier private members’ bill on the issue.
The Aged Care and Other Legislation Amendment (Royal Commission Response No. 2) Bill 2021 has now been referred to the Senate Community Affairs Legislation Committee for an inquiry, and it is expected a report will be delivered by 16 November. Submissions to that committee can be made via aph.gov.au and close Wednesday 3 November. The ANMF is making a national submission.