Parliament Updates

Zali Steggall MP speaks on Aged Care motion introduced by Helen Haines MP

23 August, 2021


I thank the member for Indi for this very important motion. As the former speakers have noted, this is such an important issue. Australia's population is ageing. In Warringah 15 per cent of residents are over 65 years of age, and that percentage will rise. Many people in Warringah are in aged-care facilities or are supporting family members who are. I look forward to speaking to many of them at a forum that I'll be hosting online in a few weeks time to hear their accounts firsthand.

The provision of adequate and compassionate aged care is important now, but it will be increasingly more and more important in years to come. The Sydney North Health Network is projecting that, between 2016 and 2036—so not too far into the future—there will be an increase of 46.3 per cent in the 65-plus age demographic. This makes it essential that we have in place well before then a planned, compassionate responsible system for aged care—a system that provides the level of care that supports dignity and grace in older age.

The two-year long Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety showed the deep cracks that exist in the existing system, and I think all Australians stood aghast as we heard the repeated testimony of such horrendous malpractice and tragedy. The 2,500 page commission report is a testament to the depth of reform needed to right the system. The royal commission made 140 recommendations to reform the system, and we are currently uncertain of the stage of implementation of many of them. The member for Indi has highlighted several consequential recommendations, particularly for rural and regional communities, and I echo the calls for the government to tell us when and how they will be implemented.

I strongly agree with recommendation 86 of the royal commission, which would ensure at least one registered nurse is always on site in residential aged-care facilities. Currently—and this is a little mind boggling—there is no minimum staffing requirement or skills mix in the legislation. Whilst we do it for so many other industries, it is really astounding that we are not doing it for our most vulnerable and elderly. It's something I have been calling for since the 2019 federal election and which I will continue to advocate for. Just this week I met a local nurse working in aged-care homes who detailed the continual staff shortages that have led to poor outcomes in the past in the care of people. In this facility there are 55 residents with moderate to severe dementia and only one registered nurse on shift—one for 55 residents. Made worse, in one facility, the RN went home overnight and left only assistants in nursing to manage the care of residents overnight, which caused issues for the RN returning to the shift in the morning, because they have to play catch-up. This is probably comparable to a lot of aged-care facilities all around the country.

Over 10 per cent of aged-care facilities operate on ratios of one RN to over 100 residents every day, despite the majority of residents, some 86 per cent, being diagnosed with at least one mental health or behavioural condition and over 50 per cent of residents having high complex healthcare needs. These are Australians in a vulnerable state and with complex needs. It is simply not right to have so little proper care afforded to them.

The government in its response to the royal commission partially accepted recommendation 86, including minimum staff time standards and committed to these in the proposed Aged Care Act. They will come into effect in phases. The first is to begin on 1 October 2023, and will provide 200 minutes per day per resident with personal care workers and enrolled nurses and 40 minutes of that time with an RN, increasing to 215 minutes and 44 minutes respectively by 1 July 2024. I welcome that commitment, but it really is not good enough. From 1 July 2022 there should always be at least one RN for morning and mid-afternoon shifts and one RN on site per aged-care facility. We really have to move quickly and implement that recommendation.

Recommendation 72, which aims to achieve equity for people with disability receiving aged care, is also incredibly important. I presented a petition of nearly 20,000 signatures in December 2019 in relation to the age discrimination that exists for people once they are over the age of 65 in relation to the difference in support between NDIS and aged care. There are, sadly, many more issues, but I commend the government and urge greater action in implementing the recommendations.