We can all understand and appreciate the importance of a good night’s sleep and the improvements that uninterrupted sleep have on the quality of our lives, but when people are unwell, or frail, or otherwise vulnerable, is it appropriate to check on them during the night, even if it interrupts sleep, to ensure their wellbeing?

A major aged care provider has asked that staff no longer check residents at night, but the request has been condemned by the nurses union, saying it is simply a measure for the provider to cut costs.

The provider issued a memo to staff titled ‘Respecting Night Time for Residents – Etiquette Guidelines’. The memo says that in the interests of ensuring residents have a good night’s sleep, staff should not enter residents’ rooms to check on them during the night.

“Respecting our residents’ right to an uninterrupted sleep where possible we believe supports a quality of life,” the memo says.

“Residents will not be woken from their sleep unless they require urgent care,” the memo says.

“The entering of residents’ rooms and or the visual ‘checking’ of residents on a periodic basis without an obvious and specific need will not take place,” it said.

Checking residents at night is sometimes not related to clinical or health care needs, according to the memo.

But Paul Gilbert Assistant Secretary of the Victorian arm of the Australian Nurse & Midwifery Federation says the order has been made to cut costs.

The provider is proposing to cut staff numbers in several of its homes, and is expanding another home without increasing staff numbers.

Mr Gilbert said the new rules are “recognition that they don’t have enough staff on at night to carry out their duties so the guideline is an attempt to change and reduce duties.

“ANMF and its members have serious concerns that residents will not receive the evidence-based clinical and personal care they require at night. We’re also concerned that nurses who follow the new ‘etiquette guideline’ will expose themselves to allegations of professional misconduct should a report be made to the Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency,” said Mr Gilbert.

“Personal care workers will may also find themselves in breach of the National Code of Conduct,” he said.

Mr Gilbert said the aged care industry made a $1 billion worth of profit in the 2015-16 financial year, but “understaffing is  chronic”.

Mr Gilbert said legislation is required to dictate how many nurses and carers nursing home owners must roster each on to safely care for residents.

“It’s well past the time we had nurse/carer ratio laws for private and not-for-profit nursing homes in this country,” he said.

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