A coroner has recommended that first-aid be compulsory for all personal care staff.

In a perfect world, every person would receive first-aid and cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) training so that every citizen can respond when someone becomes sick or injures themselves in an emergency situation.

At the very least, we would expect that those who work on the front line in our health services, such as in aged care, have the skills to come to someone’s aid in an emergency.

But the coronial inquiry into the tragic death of John Reimers revealed personal carers, which in 2016 made up 70 per cent of the aged care workforce, aren’t always trained in the basics of first-aid. 

More specifically, the inquiry found that a personal care worker was left alone for around half an hour with Mr Reimers after he fell from his wheelchair and died.

Recommended, but not compulsory

It should be noted that many aged care operators do require staff to have first-aid and CPR qualifications, and require first-aid training to be updated every three years, and CPR to be updated annually.

But these requirements are recommended, not compulsory.

Coroner Audrey Jamieson wrote in her findings that the monitoring of Mr Reimers was left “to a person who had no training in the basic principles of first-aid, including, but not limited to, airway management”.

Why less stringent requirements for aged care?

Ms Jamieson noted that workers in the disability sector are required to have a first aid level 2 certificate, but there is no such requirement for aged care staff.

“Both sectors provide care for a vulnerable cohort in our community who require variabel needs of support from carers but the requirement of qualifications for aged care staff are significantly less tringest than the requirements of disability workers,” she said.

Coroner recommends first aid compulsory for personal carers

In her recommendations, Ms Jamieson said it should be made compulsory for all personal care staff to have first-aid and CPR training.

“With the aim of promoting public health and safety, preventing like deaths and improving the delivery of care in residential aged care facilities, I recommend that State and Federal Governments create a legislative mandate requiring personal care assistants to hold a senior first-aid / CPR certificate before they can secure employment in the aged care sector,” she wrote.

More registered nurses needed in aged care

Australian Nursing and Midwifery Secretary, Annie Butler, told HelloCare first-aid is essential in emergency situations but that aged care providers have a responsibility to provide care that is “above and beyond” first-aid.

“First-aid training is primarily essential in providing basic first responder action in an emergency situation before medical care arrives,” she said.

“The duty of care for aged care providers is above and beyond basic first aid,” she said.

Ms Butler said the ANMF “does not disagree” with the coroner’s recommendation that all care staff have first-aid training, but she said it is also “essential” that a greater number of registered nurses are employed in aged care facilities.

“Registered nurses are educated and regulated to provide emergency care at the level required when looking after older people living in residential facilities,” Ms Butler said.

Ms Jamieson recommended the government “legislate minimum ratios of nursing staff to patients / residents of aged care facilities”.

She also recommended that national standards be developed to outline the skills mix and staffing levels required to manage the needs of residents and “prevent adverse outcomes”.

“The ANMF is supportive of the coroner’s recommendations for mandatory RN’s on site in every aged care facility and also for mandatory minimum numbers of nurse to resident ratios being crucial in aged care,” Ms Butler said.

Government should accept the coroner’s recommendations

It seems almost incomprehensible that the majority of the workforce caring for some of society’s most frail and vulnerable does not have first-aid training. Leaving it up to the provider to decide if staff have the qualification can mean it doesn’t happen. The government should step in and make it compulsory, as recommended by the coroner.

What do you think – should it be compulsory for all personal care staff to have first-aid training?

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