Numbers don’t add up for staffing ratio proposal

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As mentioned above, Senator Derryn Hinch has introduced a bill to determine a “safe and specific ratio” of skilled staff to residents in aged care facilities.

Julie McStay, Director at Hynes Legal and leader of their national aged care and retirement living team, explains why it just won’t work:

“As with so many initially attractive concepts, the devil is in the detail. The recommendation to mandate minimum ratios of skilled staff to care recipients presents a potentially prescriptive and unreasonable blanket requirement for providers.

Aged care providers already have an obligation under the Quality of Care Principles to have appropriately skilled and qualified staff sufficient to ensure that services are delivered in accordance with the Accreditation Standards. This is necessarily flexible to take into account the different needs of residents and factors relating to the service, including its location.

The Bill does not contemplate the formula that would be used for the ratio and it is difficult to see how a ratio could be introduced that is truly flexible and meets different care needs and the resident mix in an aged care facility at any given time.

We echo the Productivity Commission’s statement in the 2011 Caring for Older Australians report:

“An across-the-board staffing ratio is a fairly ‘blunt’ instrument for ensuring quality care because of the heterogeneous and ever changing care needs of aged care recipients – in the Commission’s view it is unlikely to be an efficient way to improve the quality of care.

Because the basis for deciding on staffing levels and skills mix should be the care needs of residents, it is important that these can be adjusted as the profile of care recipients’ changes (because of improvements/deteriorations in functionality and adverse events, etc).

Imposing mandated staffing ratios could also eliminate incentives for providers to invest in innovative models of care, or adopt new technologies that could assist care recipients.”

Senator Hinch has also failed to acknowledge that the sector would require additional funding and support from the Government in order to meet a mandated staffing ratio. As Senator Helen Polley (ALP, Tasmania) commented in her Second Reading Speech, “You can’t take $4 billion out of a sector and then expect the same type of care. It just cannot be delivered.”

So while at first blush the concept of staffing ratios may appear reasonable, the reality of on-the-ground implementation makes the suggestion unworkable.”

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