Lack of aged-care nurses affects quality of care

A chronic shortage of aged residential care nurses in the South is starting to affect the quality of care given to the elderly.

New Zealand as a whole and Otago and Southland in particular have experienced great difficulty in recruiting and retaining aged-care workers, due largely to Covid-19 border restrictions and staff leaving for other areas in the health system or migrating.

A report to be considered by the Southern District Health Board’s community and public health advisory committee on Monday warned that the effect of staffing shortages was beginning to be reflected in regular audits of aged-care residences.

"Facilities that have had excellent audits historically are receiving multiple findings of moderate (bordering on high) risk," acting planning, funding and population/public health executive director Rory Dowding said.

"Managers are receiving phone calls from both HealthCERT [the aged residential care system administrator] and auditors concerned about these findings."

At the end of October, five hospital-level aged residential care facilities reported 83 shifts without a registered nurse working on site, Mr Dowding said.

"While less than previous months, any shifts without a registered nurse on site is a concern."

The aged residential care sector recently had been granted an allocation of 300 spaces in managed isolation and quarantine for staff recruited from overseas, however, it was possible that welcome assistance could be offset by staff refusing to agree to mandatory Covid-19 vaccinations.

"The sector is also concerned about the effect the settlement of the New Zealand Nurses Organisation/DHB employment collective agreement will have on their already fragile workforce," Mr Dowding said.

"This further increases the disparity between DHB nurses and others in the health sector, especially in aged residential care and home and community support services."

In September, the SDHB set up a six-month programme to recruit internationally qualified nurses living in Otago and Southland but not practising.

"To date, the programme has made contact with up to 150 internationally qualified nurses," Mr Dowding said.

"Approximately 70 candidates are being actively case-managed at present, and a small but increasing number of contacts have been received from internationally qualified nurses located in other regions who are prepared to move to Southern [DHB] to work as registered nurses in aged residential care.

"There are also a number of nurses based overseas who have made contact with the programme."

It was hoped an initial group of candidates would meet Nursing Council standards and would be able to enrol in a bridging course at Otago Polytechnic scheduled for March, Mr Dowding said.

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