Homes' nurse ratio outcry
By MICHELLE PAINE
June 18, 2004
SOME aged care homes in Tasmania have just one registered nurse for 100 residents, the Australian Nursing Federation said yesterday.
And some operators were increasingly happy to rely on untrained workers to save money, state nurses said.
ANF secretary Neroli Ellis said best practice was a ratio closer to one to 10.
"It's become normal practice for facilities to have only one registered nurse on after 5pm for all residents," Ms Ellis said.
"More and more this debate is about unqualified workers running aged care.
"RNs are the only ones who can administer medication safely, know about drug interactions and the right time to give medication."
Aged and Community Services Tasmania lashed out at the claims and said the ANF had an agenda to promote registered nurses.
ACST president Stephen Richards said most Tasmanian facilities had fewer than 100 residents.
"All facilities go through a rigorous independent standards process and no facilities in Tasmania failed in the last round," Mr Richards said.
"There are no guidelines or ratios, nor is there evidence that having specific ratios improves quality of care.
"If the union has concerns they can see the accreditation authority, as can anyone else."
Nurses in Tasmanian aged care facilities yesterday said they would like to see benchmarks on ratios as a safeguard.
Ulverstone aged care nurse Diane Smallbon said the concern was that while some operators worked hard to do the right thing, others accepted the shortage of trained nurses.
Aged care nurses earn 20 per cent less than hospital colleagues, which adds to recruitment problems.
"For some providers it is a cost issue because nurses are costly. There's a loss of trained staff and more unregistered workers," Mrs Smallbon said.
Ulverstone's Mt St Vincent Nursing Home director of nursing Yvonne Kromkamp said safe levels of staffing needed to be maintained.
"There is no legislative requirement for the staff mix. But as a nurse, you can see the early signs of a problem, call the doctor, avoid a progression to hospitalisation," Mrs Kromkamp said.
She said her facility's nurse levels were fairly good.
Yesterday at an ANF conference in Hobart, delegates heard speaker John Buchanan from Sydney University.
Dr Buchanan related how mandated workforce ratios in Victoria had improved workplace conditions for nurses.