Committee hears evidence on staff ratios for aged care

Aged care inquiry 

Securing care for our loved ones can be a complex process. While we all want the best for our family and friends, some inquiry participants have suggested that Australia’s aged care system may not be keeping pace with the needs of our nation’s elderly.

On the 11th of May, the House Health, Aged Care and Sport Committee held a public hearing in Canberra as part of its inquiry into the Quality of Care in Residential Aged Care Facilities in Australia. The Committee has been hearing from aged care providers directly, peak representative bodies for aged care providers and the medical profession on a range of issues related to the provision and quality of aged care in Australia.

Committee Chair Mr Trent Zimmerman MP said ‘the issue du jour for the committee has been staff ratios’, which would see a set minimum number of staff to residents in aged care facilities.

The Australian Medical Association, represented by Dr Anthony Bartone, Dr Richard Kidd and Mr Luke Toy, outlined its ‘major concerns that the current aged-care system is failing our older people’. The AMA argued that aged care providers are increasingly moving away from rostering registered nurses, which is adversely impacting the ability of medical practitioners to deliver quality care. This position was seconded by the New South Wales Nurses and Midwives’ Association, who put that a minimum staffing ratio should be considered in order to better guarantee improved standards of care for residents.

Representatives of major aged care providers contested the effectiveness of ratios or minimum staffing levels as a means of improving care outcomes. Estia Health put to the committee that there are a number of factors that go into determining staff levels, not all of which would be adequately captured through a ratio system. Mr Mark Brandon, Chief Policy and Regulatory Officer at Estia Health, illustrated this point, noting that ‘even the geography, the layout, of a nursing home makes a difference to staffing’. Similarly, UnitingCare Australia characterised a ‘mandatory staffing level’ as a ‘blunt instrument’, arguing that these mechanisms could inhibit providers’ ability to staff in a way that ensures optimal care is delivered.

The inquiry will continue to consider these and other important issues over the coming weeks. If you would like to know more, visit the Committee's website.