Nov 24, 2022

Aged care leaders want job security for Enrolled Nurses

Aged care leaders want job security for Enrolled Nurses

Aged care providers are being urged to protect the role of Enrolled Nurses (ENs) as fears grow that critical experience and skills will be lost to the sector due to cost-cutting measures. 

Concerns have been raised by unions and industry leaders after some providers started moving away from ENs on their rosters. Southern Cross Care Tasmania (SCCT) was one such provider who told their ENs they can either be redeployed into new roles or accept voluntary redundancy as a new model of care was introduced.

The organisation said the changes are in response to the Government’s policy of a mandated 200 care minutes per resident, per day, from October 2023. This includes at least 40 minutes of care time from Registered Nurses (RNs) and an unspecified number of minutes from ENs and personal care workers (PCWs).

While the reforms are aimed at improving the quality of care provided to residents, peak bodies and unions believe there is a loophole for providers to substitute ENs with PCWs, who are paid a lower base salary.

Aged Care Workforce Industry Council (ACWIC) Chair, Libby Lyons, said ENs are vital to the aged care workforce and she is disappointed that some providers are removing critical staff from their facilities. 

“We cannot afford to lose any staff from the sector, particularly ENs who have essential skills and experience,” said Ms Lyons.

“Aged care providers should be looking at viable career pathways and improving their employee attraction and retention strategies to ensure they can provide a great workplace and experience for their workers. 

“The reforms being implemented in the aged care sector include significant funding increases for residential aged care providers.

“This funding is not tied to specific roles.”

Although SCCT is not the only provider making changes – some South Australian providers have also substituted ENs while some New South Wales providers have offered ENs care worker contracts – their announcement for a revamped model of care comes at a pivotal time for the aged care industry.

Despite the recent interim 15% award wage increase by the Fair Work Commission, three-quarters of the workforce is still considering leaving if they do not receive the full 25% increase. 

A loss of critical skills and experienced staff would impact the quality of care provided to aged care residents.

“The reason we had the Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety was to improve the care that older Australians receive and the community expects that aged care providers will play their part,” said Ms Lyons.

“To ensure quality care for older people there needs to be the right workers with the right skills in the right numbers and ENs are central to this.

“In addition to observing and checking the health of those in their care, ENs also spend time just being with older people talking and monitoring their concerns and general wellbeing. This is a vital part of person-centred care. 

“The loss of this role would be felt greatly by those requiring their care and support.”

Ms Lyons encouraged providers to embrace Government reforms by creating sustainable career pathways, rather than denying ENs their place at the table.

She said care is about relationships, which is enabled by having a broad set of skills as part of a diverse workforce to meet the social, emotional and physical needs of older people.

ACWIC want to encourage providers to accept and embrace the reforms that are being implemented and take this as an opportunity to be innovative and strategic in re-aligning their business to identify sustainable and person-centred models of care.

Ms Lyons said this would create a positive environment that attracts quality workers and enhances growth.

Nursing union calls on Government intervention

The Australian Nursing and Midwifery Federation (ANMF) wants to see the Government step up and introduce mandatory skill mixture percentages for RNs, ENs and PCWs to combat the potential loss of the EN role.

ANMF Federal Secretary, Annie Butler, said providers firing or redeploying ENs are “gaming the system” through the “cynical cost-cutting exercise”.

“It’s unconscionable that these taxpayer-funded aged care providers are manipulating the Government’s reforms to sack frontline ENs, especially given we’re in the midst of a rapidly-escalating COVID wave and just a month before Christmas,” said Ms Butler.

“ENs were among the healthcare workers lauded as heroes throughout the pandemic, but now they’re being disrespected and discarded by operators trying to boost their bottom line.  

“Providers certainly know that the Royal Commission recommended more qualified nurses in aged care, not less. 

“The Albanese Government’s reforms aim to improve care in nursing homes by ensuring an appropriate skills mix of RNs and ENs and PCWs, but without mandated requirements specifying skill mix percentages, providers are gaming the system to dilute the skill mix.”

There are fears that the loss of ENs in aged care would place an increased burden on RNs, particularly as their responsibilities will be stretched further under the mandate for RNs on-site 24/7.

Ms Butler said that if ENs are removed from residential aged care in large numbers, it could trigger further workforce burnout and departures.

“Already-exhausted RNs in Tasmania are being loaded-up with the extra work of ENs and are threatening to walk away from their jobs – and ultimately, it’s elderly nursing residents who’ll suffer. Enough is enough,” said Ms Butler.

“The ANMF and our members are urging the Prime Minister and Ministers for Health and Aged Care to intervene before even more nurses are lost from aged care.”

Tasmania State Premier, Jeremy Rockliff, said he was aware that Royal Commission recommendations could impact job security for ENs and he has tasked the State’s Department of Health to explore whether job opportunities are available in hospitals or the health system.

The Federal Government was contacted for comment but did not provide a response in time for publication. 

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  1. This is happening in Qld using the need to be only providing 200 hours and not having the funding outside those hours
    So many hours are being lost .
    The quality of care is lessening not getting better. RNs on each shift means time at computers not with residents.
    And requiring PC’s to do even more computer enteries than ever and less time with residents

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