Aged Care

Round-the-clock nursing essential for quality aged care, says OPAN

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OPAN has expressed its support for the Australian Government’s accelerated timeline to implement round-the-clock nursing in residential aged care facilities, which will become mandatory from 1 July 2023.

According to Older Persons Advocacy Network CEO Craig Gear OAM, 24/7 nursing is essential for ensuring high-quality aged care, including specialised dementia care. He emphasised the importance of rapid access to the right level of clinical support, as health-related incidents can occur at any time, not just during traditional working hours.

The recommendation for 24/7 nursing was one of the key suggestions put forth by the Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety to enhance the quality of residential aged care. Another significant recommendation was the increase in care minutes, which will come into effect from 1 October.

The acceleration of the delivery process aligns with a key election commitment made by the Albanese Government.

Gear acknowledged the ambitious scale of these reforms and the challenges they pose for aged care providers in terms of implementing round-the-clock nursing and meeting the increased average minutes of weekly care. He recognised that the aged care system is in need of extensive improvements. There is no quick fix, he said.

Data collected under the Star Ratings system has revealed that staffing levels in aged care facilities are lower than expected and necessary to meet the needs of older people. The Quarterly Financial Snapshot of the Aged Care sector also indicates that 54% of providers are operating at a loss. However, Gear pointed out that at least 46% of providers are turning a profit, and it is crucial to learn from their successful practices.

To support residential aged care facilities struggling to meet the 24/7 nursing mandate, several measures have been put in place. These include an exemption process and a 24/7 Registered Nurse (RN) supplement for small aged care homes in rural and remote areas. OPAN is actively participating in the Expert Advisory Group to explore alternative arrangements for those with exemptions.

Gear highlighted a recent webinar conducted by Commissioner Janet Anderson of the Aged Care Quality and Safety Commission. During the webinar, Commissioner Anderson assured the commission would take a fair and sensible approach to regulating non-compliant services that were making genuine efforts to deliver safe quality care.

Regarding workforce recruitment, Gear expressed optimism about the 15% pay rise awarded to aged care workers by the Fair Work Commission, funded under the recent Federal Budget. He emphasised the importance of securing the necessary funding and stated that better wages play a crucial role in attracting and retaining quality staff, particularly nursing professionals, in residential aged care.

In cases where providers are unable to implement the required reforms to deliver quality aged care, Gear urged them to be transparent and honest with residents and their families.

“If they have to make some really tough business decisions, they need to do it right,” he said. “That means giving residents and their families plenty of notice and working through the process
with them.”

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