Responding to a call by the New Zealand Nurses Organisation for “outdated” and voluntary minimum staffing standards to be reviewed, the New Zealand Aged Care Association says the underlying challenges facing the sector need to be addressed before nursing staffing levels are reviewed.
NZNO industrial advisor David Wait says the Indicators for Safe Aged-Care and Dementia Care, produced by Standards New Zealand in 2005, are still widely used as a measure for staffing levels and they need to be reviewed, updated and made compulsory as a minimum set of standards for all aged-care service providers.
“We’re still hearing unfortunate stories about standards of aged care, and this is a source of considerable distress to some aged care residents and their families,” says Wait.
NZACA chief executive Simon Wallace told INsite magazine that he took exception to the continual focus on these “unfortunate stories”.
“We do not condone even one poor case of care… but actually those cases are very rare and we need to celebrate the very good job we do with the stretched resources that we have in looking after 36,000 New Zealanders,” said Wallace.
It is these stretched resources and other major issues facing the sector that need to be addressed by the Government before conversations can turn to standards and staffing levels, he said.
“As an industry we are very happy to work in partnership with the unions and the government on staffing and standards – bring it on! But actually the Government has got to come to the table and play its part here.”
Wallace said the aged care sector is facing a dire shortage of nurses, due to a number of factors. Rest homes are not funded adequately to remunerate their nurses to the same levels as those working in DHBs. Furthermore, the recent NZNO settlement is seeing nurses leave the aged care sector to take up DHB positions. And with aged care nurses no longer on the migrant long-term skills shortage list, the shortage isn’t being filled by migrant nurses either.
Wallace said government action on addressing immigration policy settings would immediately relieve some of the pressure on staffing.
“When you talk about safe staffing levels we’ve got to be able to recruit and retain staff,” he says, “This problem with nurses could be solved overnight by the government. They could put nurses on the long-term skills shortage list tomorrow.
“Even as a stop-gap measure that would solve the crisis that we have at the moment while we work out some longer term solutions with the DHBs, who are very supportive and acknowledge the issues the sector is facing.”
Some of those solutions could be around training more nurses in New Zealand, making aged care an attractive option for graduate nurses, and providing the sector with the resources to support those graduates.
But for the short term, the NZACA will continue to lobby for a change in immigration policy settings to help relieve the current nurse shortage. The Association has made a submission, written to the Immigration Minister, and while it is prepared to wait for a response, so far none is forthcoming.
“We’ve been lobbying on immigration now for 12 months and we haven’t seen any change,” said Wallace.
“We want to partner with the unions. Standards – yeah, bring them on. Staffing levels – we can discuss those. But before we do that we’ve got to have the Government at the table to help solve the short-term issues that we’ve got now.”