The Australian Nursing and Midwifery Federation (ANMF) today is calling on the Morrison Government to urgently implement its five-point action plan to protect elderly Australians living in nursing homes from further COVID-19 outbreaks.
After giving evidence to the Aged Care Royal Commission via video-link yesterday (Wednesday 12 August), ANMF Federal Secretary Annie Butler, said the unfolding tragedy in Victoria clearly demonstrates a lack of leadership from the Government and a failure to ensure preparedness across the sector to deal with COVID-19.
Ms Butler said: “As there is no vaccine or definitive treatment for COVID-19 yet, it’s critically important that the sector’s focus is on preparedness, which means prevention and control, rather than just focusing on how to respond once an outbreak has occurred.
“While the sector continues to require wholescale and widespread reform to fix the crisis that existed before the pandemic, there are several key actions the Government can implement immediately to ensure our elderly are better protected.”
Ms Butler said the ANMF’s recommendations for immediate action are:
Stop any further cuts to nursing and care: Inexplicably, throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, 64% of ANMF members surveyed, reported staff cuts and nursing and care hour reductions in some nursing homes, diminishing care for residents and putting the lives of the elderly at further risk during the pandemic.
Additional staffing with the right skills: Ensure sufficient numbers of qualified staff with the right skills mix and mandate minimum nursing/care hours, to properly prepare a suitably-skilled workforce in the event of further infection outbreaks.
Personal Protective Equipment (PPE): Ensure sufficient supplies of PPE and clear guidance, education and training for all aged care staff from an infection control expert and ensure infection control expertise is available at every nursing home.
Paid pandemic leave: Guarantee paid pandemic leave for all workers who need to stay home because they need to get tested and self-isolate due to exposure to COVID-19 or they’re feeling unwell. This is a critical measure in preventing further spread of COVID-19 in workplaces across the community.
Accountability/transparency for Government-funding: Ensure that aged care providers are actually using additional taxpayer funds for its intended purposes – providing additional staff and skills, guaranteeing PPE and other critical resources and that incentive payments intended for aged care workers are reaching them.
Ms Butler added: “Providers must have sufficient numbers of qualified nurses and carers with the right mix of skills, so they are suitably prepared to fight the outbreak with a skilled surge workforce. And these staff must be equipped with sufficient supplies of PPE and genuine infection prevention and control education and training, which must include time to practice those skills under the guidance and supervision of an infection control expert.
“What’s also apparent is that it’s imperative that there is strong clinical leadership at all levels of aged care, from on the ground, right up to Boards of Directors. Decisions being made about clinical care for the vulnerable and elderly, must be made by clinical experts.
“Since the start of the pandemic, the ANMF has written and been in contact with the Aged Care Minister Richard Colbeck on at least eight occasions, offering our help and advice on the mounting issues plaguing the aged sector, particularly around inadequate staffing and shortages of PPE and other workforce support measures.
“Unfortunately, the Government has not responded and has not implemented actions which may have provided better protections for elderly Australians. The untold grief and trauma that too many have already had to experience cannot be undone, but the Government has the power, and the responsibility, to take our advice and act immediately on our action plan. We are calling on the Morrison Government to work with us to fix the crisis in aged care.”
The ANMF, with over 290,000 members, is the industrial and professional voice for nurses, midwives and assistants in nursing in Australia.