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Plight of aged care workers highlighted on International Women's Day

Photo: Health Times
As the world celebrated International Women’s Day, the Australian Nursing and Midwifery Federation paid homage to the important role women play in Australia’s health and aged care systems.

Women comprise almost 90 per cent of Australians nursing and midwifery workforce, baring the brunt of the significant challenges faced within these industries, particularly within the aged care sector.

ANMF Federal Secretary Annie Butler said International Women’s Day was an ideal opportunity to celebrate the contributions nurses and midwives made, along with the care they provided to the community, whether that be within a hospital, clinic or aged care facility.

“But it’s also important that we use IWD to highlight the ongoing challenges women still face throughout their working lives,” she said.
Such challenges include the gender pay gap, along with the loss of income women experience when they take maternity and family care leave, right through to their retirement when they are financially disadvantaged as a result of career breaks for family reasons and their reduced superannuation earnings.

“Our members in aged care are doing it especially tough with nurses and carers struggling in an undervalued and under resourced sector where they are paid less, are more likely to be in insecure work and lack
opportunities for career professionals.

According to Registered Nurse Dr Gillian Stockwell-Smith from the Menzies Health Institute Queensland, the new aged care standards that come into operation mid 2019 do not specify staffing ratios, but rather an expectation that RACF operators have ‘…the staff numbers and mix of skills needed to provide consumers with quality care’.

“Residential aged care is becoming increasingly complex, residents are entering facilities with high level health and psychological needs that require experienced and well-educated staff,” said Dr Stockwell-Smith.

“However, the pay and status of aged care does not encourage well motivated and educated nurses to go into this speciality.”

Further, the demands on nurses in RACF are high,” she said.

“They are caring for a resident population with high care needs with limited staff, both in numbers and capacity.

“Most RACF staff are unregulated/paraprofessional - assistants in nursing/personal care workers -with variable levels of experience and training.”

The stresses associated with the demands of the job may also have an impact on nurse’s mental health.

“But I think that all that happens is that as stresses increase nurses leave RAC and move to other care settings.

“Nursing, particularly aged care, has traditionally been and continues to be a predominantly female occupation.”

Ms Butler said evidence presented to the Royal Commission demonstrated unreasonable workloads, leaving nursing home residents to suffer, through missed care due to lack of staff.

“On behalf of women working in aged care, where they represent 94% of the workforce, the ANMF will be fighting hard in this election year, for the introduction of mandated minimum staffing levels in aged care.

“The theme for IWD this year was ‘More Powerful Together’, and that’s the message from the ANMF, as our members, health professionals; residents and their families and consumer groups, all join together in calling for an end to the crisis in aged care.”

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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.