Nurses stand up for aged-care minimum staffing

The people who built New Zealand are being let down by the Government in their old age, the New Zealand Nurses Organisation (NZNO) says.

There is no mandatory minimum staffing level in the aged-care sector, and the nurses’ union is this week rallying support around the country in an attempt to change government policy.

NZNO Dunedin organiser Colette Wright said staffing levels were set by DHBs in agreement with aged residential care facilities, and currently were assessed using optional, outdated guidelines.

"These are the people who built our country and we feel they deserve better care than that to have their daily needs adequately met.

"What we are asking for is for more paid hours from the Ministry of Health for healthcare assistants and registered nurses, and that there needs to be a mandated minimum amount of staffing to be able to provide the health outcomes and quality of life that older New Zealanders deserve."

New Zealand Nurses Organisation members (from left) Karyn Chalk, Colette Wright and Rhonda Tosh...
New Zealand Nurses Organisation members (from left) Karyn Chalk, Colette Wright and Rhonda Tosh raised awareness of understaffing issues in aged-care facilities during a rally in the Octagon yesterday. PHOTO: GREGOR RICHARDSON
The need for better care for elderly New Zealanders was only going to be greater as the average age of the population increased, Ms Wright said.

While policies aimed at enabling people to stay in their own homes for longer were welcome, it also meant that by the time they needed aged residential care their need for skilled nursing care increased.

"They need more care, but at the moment we are about 60% staffed by internationally qualified staff and because of Covid we are seeing fewer international nurses able to come into the country and go through managed isolation."

Simultaneously, DHBs were recruiting local nurses to meet agreed safe staffing levels in hospitals, putting extra pressure on the aged-care workforce.

"Nurses are in short supply, they are an extremely valuable resource, we need them ... but we still don’t have minimum mandated staffing levels for aged residential care," Ms Wright said.

She and several colleagues yesterday collected signatures for an open letter to be sent to Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, on the mandatory staffing levels issue.


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