Unlikely bedfellows in aged care

4 minute read

The push for tighter aged-care regulation has found an unlikely champion in the Shooters, Farmers and Fishers Party


The move for tighter workforce rules at aged care homes has found an unlikely champion in the Shooters, Farmers and Fishers Party

The minority party has won support for a bid to restore a requirement for aged care facilities in NSW to have registered nurses on duty 24/7 – a provision dumped recently by the state Liberal government against the advice of a parliamentary inquiry.

“Quality care must be prioritised before profits – the argument that somehow the world would end if this (requirement) was reinstated does not wash,” Shooters MP Robert Brown said, introducing a bill in the upper house.

“We’ve had quality and effective aged care for over 30 years with this provision in place, so there’s no need to change it.”

The bill is backed by the opposition and crossbench ranks – achieving a rare consensus among Labor, the Christian Democrats, the Greens and Animal Justice Party – and is now the subject of negotiations with the government, a Shooters spokesperson told TMR.

The requirement for registered nurses in aged care was particularly important in NSW because of the state’s relatively “looser” rules around medications, he said.

In parliament, Mr Brown, one of two Shooters Party MPs in the NSW upper house, departed from his prepared speech to tell of a medication error having a devastating impact on his elderly uncle in a state hospital.

“Unfortunately, the inappropriate application of drugs by a staff member, a non-registered nurse, sent Uncle Jack blind,” he said.

The parliamentary committee that conducted the inquiry called for retaining the existing rule for a registered nurse to be on duty at all times in “high care” facilities but proposed attaching the rule to residents’ assessed needs rather than the type of facility.

While doctors and nurses argued in favour of the proposal, the aged care sector said it would be too costly.

Ilana Halliday, CEO of ACS NSW and ACT, said the provision would require 2000 extra registered nurses and cost $150 million in NSW alone – or $500 million if adopted Australia-wide.

NSW Greens MP Jan Barham, who led the committee undertaking the inquiry, told TMR she was “devastated” by the decision of Health Minister Jillian Skinner in April to reject the recommendation.

Mrs Skinner ruled that the issue came under commonwealth jurisdiction and retaining NSW provisions would mean a regulatory duplication.

Ms Barham said she was surprised because the call had the support of committee members from Mrs Skinner’s own party.

The NSW committee also urged the state to push for sweeping changes in the national framework for aged care regulations, including the adoption of staff-to-resident ratios and licensing of personal care workers.

It said the commonwealth should require aged care facilities to make information on the skill sets of their staff publicly available, including on the My Aged Care website.

Ms Barham said doctors, nurses, gerontologists, academics, health professionals, older people and their families had been unanimous in calling for 24/7 registered nursing in aged care.

“Even NSW Health opposed removing the regulation,” she said.

The Shooters Party says its bill will “right the wrong” in a straightforward manner.

“We’ve brought this forward because we don’t want to perpetuate a situation of having aged care being turned into a profit-driven exercise where they are removing professionals purely out of a profit-driven motive,” the spokesperson said.

“Some people might think this is not in lockstep with our core issues, but it is one that especially affects people in rural areas where it is a lot harder to find alternative services.”

The move comes amid renewed concern over the impact of recent commonwealth budget cuts slashing $1.2 billion from aged care funding over the next four years.


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