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Nurses are being blamed for aged care plight, survey shows

Photo: Health Times Magazine
While increased publicity surrounding the plight of the aged care industry is raising awareness of the issue, a recent survey shows nurses are being blamed at a societal level, adding to their already high levels of stresses.

The survey, conducted by the Australian Nursing and Midwifery Federation, was a follow up to similar research which took place in 2016, and shows that the situation is getting worse, not better.

“In 2016, the ANMF undertook its first national aged care survey,” says ANFM Secretary Annie Buttler.

“Almost two and a half thousand individuals participated in the survey comprising 1,724 aged care nurses and care workers and 699 community members, mostly relatives of people in aged care.

“In early 2018, the ANMF launched a new national campaign for safe staffing in aged care Ratios for aged care, make them law NOW.
“In September 2018, following an expose on residential aged care by the ABC’s Four Corners program, the Prime Minister announced the establishment of a Royal Commission into aged care quality and safety (Royal Commission, 2018).

“At one of the first Commission hearings in Adelaide in 2019, the ANMF was called upon to provide a witness statement and give evidence.

At the hearing, the ANMF provided evidence drawn from the 2016 national aged care survey and alerted the Commission of the work already underway to repeat the survey in 2019.”

Ms Buttler said while participants’ reports of their experiences in 2019 were consistent with those identified in 2016, things had become even worse.

“What caused us the most alarm in the findings of the survey was the discovery that the situation has only got worse for those working in aged care, and therefore for those living in aged care.

“Almost 90% of participants reported that staffing was inadequate at their facilities, an increase from 79% in 2016. 

“1,937 participants gave us detailed stories of the staffing inadequacies and the resulting missed care that was occurring at their facilities, including missed wound care and pain management, and even of residents missing out on being fed or toileted and just parked in front of TVs.”

Also alarming was the increasing stress that nurses and aged care workers were under and the culture of blame that existed around them.

“They felt they were being blamed for all the system’s failings – by their management, employers, governments and the general public.

“In response to increasing public scrutiny their employers have put even more unreasonable demands on the staff which is hindering their capacity to provide good care even further.”

Ms Buttler said while the workers continue to be blamed for the failing system, the increased awareness of the situation is of no real benefit.
“But there will be benefits - the Royal Commission and, although painful, the stories being exposed through the media, are allowing the real causes of the problems in aged care to be brought to light and to be genuinely examined.

“And for our members – to actually be heard.”

Ms Buttler says if the problems are urgently addressed, nurses will continue to leave the sector.

“They simply cannot sustain the pressure any longer.

“Or, quite frankly, the heartbreak so many of them feel when they can’t provide safe, quality care to their residents.

“So they will just opt for more attractive and less stressful options.

“And if urgent action isn’t taken, now that people have a greater understanding of what’s happening in the sector, there’ll be no one willing to replace them.”

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Nicole Madigan

Nicole Madigan is a widely published journalist with more than 15 years experience in the media and communications industries.

Specialising in health, business, property and finance, Nicole writes regularly for numerous high-profile newspapers, magazines and online publications.

Before moving into freelance writing almost a decade ago, Nicole was an on-air reporter with Channel Nine and a newspaper journalist with News Limited.

Nicole is also the Director of content and communications agency Stella Communications (www.stellacomms.com) and a children's author.