Survey Shows Extent of Aged Care Nursing Shortage

A chronic aged residential care nurse shortage has left almost two-thirds of Southern facilities without the required amount of registered nurses. Nursing and aged care worker unions have long argued that the sector was in a perilous state, but a recent Southern District Health Board survey showed how bad the local nursing shortage is.

The survey was sent to 65 facilities, and 60 percent replied.

Half of aged care nurses regularly worked several hours overtime each week, and 83 percent of managers regularly had to fill in shifts where no staff were available. Of those who responded, one in five facilities had fewer than their required number of nurses, and the same percentage had denied admission to a new resident because nursing care was unavailable.

SDHB chief executive Chris Fleming had regularly warned that there was a crisis looming in aged residential care nursing, and the survey had confirmed that almost half of facilities had been unable to replace departed registered nurses in the last six months.

Without action, the challenges to provide sustainable, safe staffing within the sector would continue to deteriorate, said the report attached to the survey.

The New Zealand Nurses Organisation has long advocated for compulsory safe staffing levels for aged residential care facilities and held a series of stop-work meetings in August in association with the Etu Union.

Dunedin NZNO organiser Colette Wright said there were few surprises for the union in the survey results, but it was optimistic that the board acknowledged the problem and appeared committed to creating a solution.

The demand on nurses in aged care to provide quality care is unsustainable with the current model, said Wright.

Aged care nurses were asked to work longer hours for less money at understaff workplaces, she said.

Wright said she knew one nurse who was asked to work a 16-hour shift, which shows how desperate employers are to cover shifts.

The government announced a one-off, simplified pathway to residence for 165,000 migrants already in New Zealand, which would help but more still needed to be done to allow nurses to come from overseas, Wright said.

New Zealand currently doesn't have enough registered or enrolled nurses in the country, which is something New Zealand Immigration and the Ministry of Health need to address quickly, she added.

Next week, an SDHB committee would consider recruiting a workforce coordinator for a six-month role aimed at supporting potential nurses to attain Nursing Council registration, as well as other initiatives intended to increase the nursing pool.