Aged care workers and community advocates turned out in force at rallies across the country last month as the Australian Nursing and Midwifery Federation (ANMF) officially launched its national campaign pushing for mandated staff ratios in the sector.
At Victoria’s rally on International Nurses Day, 12 May, ANMF A/Federal Secretary Annie Butler said the campaign’s launch across the country marked the beginning of collective action to address chronic understaffing so nurses and carers could provide proper care to elderly residents.
Ms Butler called on federal politicians to legislate ratios and ensure aged care providers are held accountable for the billions in government subsidies they receive.
“The only thing that will meet our expectations is when we know every single elderly nursing home resident has access to safe quality care and we know the only way to do that is for the government to mandate staff ratios,” she told the crowd in Queens Park, Moonee Ponds.
High profile aged care allies in former ANMF Federal Secretary and recently elected Federal Labor MP for Batman, Ged Kearney, and Victorian Senator Derryn Hinch pledged to back the campaign, with Hinch promising to introduce a tougher ratios Bill into Parliament later this year after his private member’s Bill failed to gain support last September.
Aged care worker Sam said she attended the rally because she felt compelled to help fix the crisis.
“I just feel proud that all these people have come out today,” she said.
“This [ratios] is what we’ve got to fight for. This should have happened many years ago before it got this bad.”
Across in South Australia, hundreds rallied for aged care ratios outside the office of Federal Labor MP Steve Georganas in Glenelg East, with nurses, carers and community advocates chanting “Ratios for aged care make them law now!”.
Former nurse and South Australian Labor MP Nat Cook, who began her career in aged care, was among those who addressed the crowd and committed to fighting for the nation’s elderly.
“In aged care I provided care. I gave personal hygiene. I fed them [residents]. I helped people put their makeup on. I dressed them with dignity. We took them for walks. People don’t have the time to do that these days. It’s not care anymore and people don’t enjoy their jobs because of it.”
The Queensland Nurses & Midwives’ Union (QNMU) began their campaign activities for the national launch with a march for aged care on Labour Day, 7 May, across the state that saw scores of nurses, midwives and carers support their aged care colleagues.
Then on 12 May, International Nurses Day and national launch day, the QNMU conducted a secret audit that involved surveying 70 aged care facilities across
30 federal Queensland electorates.
The audit found 79% of aged care staff surveyed said facilities were dangerously understaffed, 82% reported residents who called for help had to wait, and 68% said chronic understaffing meant they were unable to properly clean residents.
The audit also found 75% of aged care staff were not qualified nurses, with many aged care residents regularly left without a registered nurse on staff overnight.
Tasmania’s campaign launch involved a community gathering on the Clarence City Council lawns in Rosny and included speeches from ANMF (Tas Branch) Secretary Emily Shepherd and Federal Labor MP for Franklin Julie Collins.
“Chronic understaffing in nursing homes in Tasmania means that nurses and carers are being placed under enormous pressure and elderly, vulnerable residents aren’t getting the care they need and deserve,” Ms Shepherd said.
Elsewhere, the ANMF (ACT Branch) held a sausage sizzle in Lennox Gardens, Yarralumla, on 12 May, while the ANMF (NT Branch) called for action on 7 May in Darwin and Alice Springs with nurses, midwives and carers marching for legislated ratios in aged care.
In NSW, drizzly weather did little to dampen spirits at the NSW Nurses and Midwives’ Association (NSWNMA) rally in Parramatta Park, which featured numerous speakers including aged care workers and supportive politicians.
“Nurses and care staff are doing the very best they can, often in impossible circumstances,” NSWNMA General Secretary Brett Holmes told the crowd.
“They are run off their feet and they can’t provide the level of care they want to. There simply isn’t enough staff.”
To read more articles from ANMJ, view the full journal online at issuu.com/australiannursingfederation/docs/anmj_june_2018_issuu