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Staffing levels in aged care below guidelines

3 October 2005

Staffing levels in aged care below Ministry guidelines

Staffing levels in aged care are well below Ministry of Health-supported indicators for safe staffing, according to a just-published New Zealand Nurses’ Organisation study.

In August and September, NZNO delegates undertook a snapshot of a variety of aged-care sites to examine nursing and caregiver staff levels. The survey of 40 sites – rest-homes, aged-care hospitals and dementia units - show that staffing levels fall significantly below the indicators issued by the Ministry of Health. The results also indicate that caregivers are undertaking roles more properly done by nurses.

In a handbook produced last year, a Standards New Zealand expert committee recommended staffing level indicators for a variety of settings in aged care. The NZNO survey compared the actual staffing levels in rest-homes and aged-care facilities with the staffing indicators from the handbook.

“Our calls to have minimum staffing levels re-established have been validated by the survey,” said NZNO’s organising services manager Cee Payne-Harker. “At the time the report was issued, the establishment of minimum staffing levels was opposed. The report stated that ‘most providers already work within the recommended staffing levels’, and thus there is no need for enforcement of the indicators. This is clearly not so.”

Key findings of the snapshot include:

- Caregiver hours per week in rest-homes were at only 56 percent of levels expected by the indicators

- Staffing levels for nurses in rest-homes were at only 53 percent of those expected by the indicators

- In the rest-home/hospitals, nursing numbers were at 62 percent of indicator levels. Despite the requirement to have an RN on duty at all times, there were shifts where none was rostered.

Payne-Harker said the study revealed an aged-care sector in crisis. “These staffing figures confirm what NZNO has known for a long time – at most aged-care sites, there is not enough staff to provide safe care to residents.

“We will be calling on the Government for the reintroduction of established minimum staffing levels, more training for caregivers and appropriate support and supervision for caregivers.”


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