The Federal Government has called on aged care providers to reconsider decisions to make Enrolled Nurses (ENs) redundant, labelling it as an unacceptable move for the industry.
Some providers around the country have indicated they will be substituting ENs with Registered Nurses (RNs) and personal care workers (PCWs), claiming that funding changes make it difficult to keep ENs on board.
Southern Cross Care Tasmania (SCCT) recently announced that ENs, lifestyle officers and servery staff would be offered new positions or voluntary redundancies, as part of their operations revamp in lieu of the Government’s decision to fund ENs as carers instead of nurses.
Now the Government has re-entered the conversation, as the Minister for Health and Aged Care, Mark Butler, released a statement late last Friday expressing disappointment towards SCCT for making this move.
“We are also highly concerned that SCCT are making Enrolled Nurses redundant because of incorrect claims these roles are no longer funded by the Government,” said Minister Butler.
“Qualified and experienced Enrolled Nurses are a critical component of the aged care workforce as are those carers who provide direct care to some of the most vulnerable in Australia.
“These are decisions of SCCT – not the Government.
“At a time when there has been a significant increase in Federal funding for care and when there are acute workforce shortages, we are disappointed that SCCT is proposing to terminate the employment of longstanding, experienced and dedicated nursing staff.”
As part of the new mandates for 200 care minutes per resident each day to be introduced in October 2023, the Government will fund $5.4 billion over four years to support providers and ensure they can deliver the correct number of care minutes.
Mr Butler said ENs need to be included in that direct care workforce and he strongly urged SCCT to reconsider its decision.
“It is unacceptable that after the findings and recommendations of the Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety that a small minority of providers are looking to lower the standard of care available to residents in aged care facilities,” said Minister Butler.
“As recommended by the Royal Commission, Enrolled Nurses need to be included in the direct care workforce to ensure there is the right mix of skills to deliver high quality care.
“We will always put the needs of vulnerable older Australians first and support the workers that deliver this critical care.”
Minister Butler said the Department of Health and Aged Care will provide a response in the near future to prevent ENs from losing their positions.
The Government had been called on to take immediate action after the Australian Nursing and Midwifery Federation (ANMF) asked them to intervene and stop skilled nurses from being lost from the aged care industry.
ANMF Federal Secretary, Annie Butler, was pleased to see the Government’s announcement and said they will work together to mandate specified minimum care minutes for all nursing roles.
Under the current mandates, 40 minutes of care must be with an RN, but there are no requirements for the remaining 160 care minutes.
“The ANMF and our members across Australia are pleased the Government has listened to our concerns,” said Ms Butler.
“The Government understands the vital role that highly-trained ENs play in providing quality, safe care to vulnerable, elderly Australians living in nursing homes, as recommended by the Royal Commission.
“The ANMF will now work with the Government to ensure that it mandates specify minimum RN/EN/PCW care minutes, to protect the jobs of our ENs in aged care and, most importantly, strengthen the aged care workforce to guarantee quality care delivery.”
She said ANMF will be advocating in Canberra next week as a delegation of ENs and RNs are set to meet with Government Ministers in Canberra.
The Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Catholic Health Australia (CHA), Pat Garcia, has defended SCCT and criticised those who have opted to single out the provider for its actions.
Mr Garcia said SCCT continues to provide an excellent quality of care and it should not be used to send a signal to the broader aged care sector.
“Despite financial losses, it continues to invest in new services for its 650 residents, including new on-site kitchens that will deliver better quality food,” said Mr Garcia
“It is also giving residents more control over their type of care with a new model that aims to replicate a home-like environment.
“The provider is already delivering nursing coverage on a 24-hour seven day a week basis and is on track to meet the 200 minutes of care that will be mandated in a little under a year from now.”
Mr Garcia said it would be better to focus on actual policy changes rather than picking on providers.
“Letting Enrolled Nurses contribute to the 40 nurse care minutes will ease the burden on Registered Nurses and help providers find enough staff,” said Mr Garcia.
“Enrolled Nurses are more than capable of performing daily care including taking blood pressure tests and developing clinical care plans.
“We should allow them to continue performing those duties by recognising them in the 40 nurse care minutes.”
According to CHA modelling, an additional 6,000 RNs and 10,000 PCWs will be needed to meet care mandates, including having an RN on duty 24/7 from July 2023.