Nurses and carers abused, bullied and harassed - the ‘scapegoats’ for the crisis in aged care

03 May 2019

Overworked nurses and carers are being spat at in the street, abused in shopping centres and physically and emotionally harassed and vilified, being made the ‘scapegoats’ for the crisis in aged care, according to a new national survey of thousands of residential aged care workers, released today.

Conducted by the Australian Nursing and Midwifery Federation (ANMF) The National Aged Care Survey (the ‘Survey’), revealed how nursing home workers are unfairly being harassed and bullied with a new intensity as a result of shocking evidence exposed in the Royal Commission and on Four Corners, whilst aged care providers and governments weren’t being held accountable for the systemic failures in aged care.

Over 2,700 aged care workers participated in the Survey, between 26 March-12 April this year, with participants asked to outline their main concerns about the current dire situation in residential aged care:

  • 90% said inadequate staffing to provide basic care of residents;
  • 90% said inadequate staffing to provide basic care to residents;
  • 61% said lack of experience/qualifications of staff;
  • 51% said current Commonwealth funding;
  • 38% said greater transparency/accountability for Commonwealth funding;
  • 36% said quality/amount of food for residents.

In heart-breaking detail, nurses and carers recounted the suffering of elderly residents, who weren’t given basic care as a result of chronic understaffing and how staff were the ones being unfairly blamed by their employers  - for the providers’ own inadequacies, with government offering little, or no support:

  • “Violence and aggression toward staff, especially towards carers by residents with dementia and mental illness.”
  • “Bullying, intimidation and scapegoating from management, which reduces everyone’s confidence, which in turn can also affect how we work for our residents …”
  • “Ongoing excessive workloads for nurses and carers … “
  • “Staff are being intimidated by management/ACFI co-ordinator … Often I am requested to lie when I do clinical paperwork so we get more funding.”
  • “3 carers and just 1 RN for more than 140 residents overnight.”
  • “Residents missing out being fed, toileted … residents being parked in front of TV in dementia wings.”
  • “Residents sit in wet pads for hours because there aren’t enough staff on the floor.”
  • “We are understaffed, underpaid and overworked.”

Commenting on the findings of the Survey, which included responses from nurses and carers in every State and Territory, ANMF Federal Secretary Annie Butler says it ‘presents a bleak picture of aged care in Australia’ and points to a clear abrogation of duty by governments and aged care providers.

“Since our last staff survey in 2016, nurses and carers describe the situation in aged care as one approaching despair; with the feelings of desperation most acutely affecting aged care workers themselves. They identified inadequate staffing levels, staff qualifications and experience and the subsequent inability to meet both basic and higher clinical care standards as their key concerns in aged care - there are simply not enough staff with the right mix of skills to care for the number and type of residents in aged care facilities.

“Deteriorating staffing levels and overwhelming workloads are having terrible consequences on their physical and emotional health and professional safety. Despite their best efforts and intentions, staff simply cannot manage the workload demanded of them. They also identified feeling the increasing pressure of being held responsible for the failings of the aged care system rather than the system itself and the authorities who are meant to be responsible for ensuring its safety and quality being held accountable. 

“Nurses and carers have become the scapegoats for the abuse and neglect, which has existed for some time, but is being exposed now through the Royal Commission and the Four Corners expose. They report being spat on in the street, abused in shopping centres, vilified in national and local media and blamed, harassed and bullied with a new intensity by their management and employers.

“They believe many aged care employers, managers and executives lack the necessary skills to run aged care facilities effectively, so quickly resort to blaming staff for their own inadequacies. Staff also level this criticism at the government, which they describe not only as unskilled but worse, uncaring and without empathy. And the pervasive lack of transparency in the sector permits this all to continue.

“They describe the lack of value they feel they have to their employers and to society and a sense of futility in trying to cope with the ever-increasing demands of a very unsupportive environment. Right now, aged care workers are the only thing holding this broken system together and they want to be able to take pride in the work that they do, they want to give our elderly the best standard of care possible, and they want to be able to deliver that care in environments that are safe and supportive for themselves. But we’re not letting them do that.

“Years of inaction from consecutive Coalition Governments have perpetuated the chronic failures of Australia’s aged care system, leaving good workers defeated and broken and our most vulnerable elderly abandoned, neglected and suffering. The ANMF is calling on all political parties to make an election commitment to mandate minimum staffing levels for aged care right now and to stop ignoring the pleas from nurses and carers on the frontline who have provided first-hand accounts of the devastating effects of chronic understaffing.

“All political parties must acknowledge that we cannot wait another 18 months until the conclusion of the Royal Commission – the pain and the suffering of the elderly in our care must be an election priority and a commitment to mandate minimum staffing levels is where they must start.”  

ANMF media release authorised by Annie Butler, ANMF Federal Secretary. 1/365 Queen St, Melbourne.

The ANMF, with over 275,500 members, is the industrial and professional voice for nurses, midwives and carers in Australia.

ANMF Media inquiries: Richard Lenarduzzi 0411 254 390

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