Let’s make one thing very clear right from the start, carers are the most undervalued, overworked, and important cog in the aged care industry.

Socially, nurses have long been the recipients of praise and admiration for the hard work and personal touch involved with their jobs, but unfortunately, those who do the bulk of the groundwork in the aged care industry are not afforded this level of acclaim.

Carers are the ones who take on the responsibility of doing some of the more intrusive tasks that require a high level of professionalism and humility in order to assure that an elderly person can feel dignified in what could be described as a potentially embarrassing or humiliating situation.

Nobody wants to soil themselves as an adult, and it takes a special person to not only clean that mess, but do so in a way that allows a resident to still feel like a valued adult.

Showering, feeding, clothing and cleaning a resident, are just a handful of the tasks that a carer takes responsibility for on any given day, and they are also most the most likely person to be holding a hand or giving a hug to a an elderly person that needs it.

And that’s why it’s so important that carers are people of the highest moral character.

Given that carers spend more time with elderly residents than anyone else, along with the obvious vulnerabilities of people within the elderly age group, it would seem extremely logical for carers to have to join a national registry similar to the ones that nurses, doctors, and other medical professionals do.

But, unfortunately, this is currently not the case, and this makes it extremely difficult for aged care employers to be able to verify the character and employment history of the carers that they hire.

Example

Dana Gray is a former aged care employee who was charged with assaulting an 85-year-old woman at an Estia facility in Epping in April last year.

Ms. Gray’s case was particularly concerning given the level of violence, and one glance at the disturbing secret camera footage of Ms. Gray slapping and throttling an elderly resident is indication enough that this person is someone who should never have the opportunity to care for an elderly person ever again.

But had there been a national registry for carers in the aged care industry, she may not have had the chance to commit this horrible crime in the first place.

Following the horrible incident, Estia Health released a statement to the media where former Estia CEO, Norah Barlow, highlighted the potential benefits of having an organisation that licensed and registered all aged care workers.

“There is no single solution to stamping out elder abuse, but this case reinforces Estia’s call for a national register to identify people who should not be working in aged care.

“While aged care providers can take action against inappropriate behaviour, there is currently no way of knowing with any certainty whether a prospective employee has a history of behaving inappropriately.

“A national register of aged care workers will show exactly where someone has worked, for how long, whether they have been dismissed and the circumstances of their dismissal,” said Mrs. Barlow.

Current Standards

As it currently stands, only the aged care employees who are classed as health professionals are the employees that are held to a standard involving licensing and registration, and carers within the aged care sector do not currently fall into this category.

Nurses in the aged care sector are currently licensed and regulated by the Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency (AHPRA) which ensures that all nurses meet a minimum standard of education, and also allows prospective employers to adequately check their nursing work history.

Annie Butler, Federal Secretary for the Australian Nursing and Midwifery Federation, spoke with HelloCare and outlined her thoughts and the thoughts on the ANMF on the potential licensing of carers in the aged care industry.

“The ANMF has a long held position that care workers in the aged care industry should be licensed,” said Annie.

“The system that AHPRA runs, and there is a national law that sets out the regulation for all health professionals, the key purpose of that is the protection of public safety, so that’s what you’re trying to achieve when you license a worker, and there are increasing calls for this, especially since the announcement of the Royal Commission.”

There are many benefits when introducing this level of accountability, firstly, people have to meet a number of minimum standards, including certainty around minimum standards of education, training, and qualification.

There is also a vital layer of security that is provided by having a system that allows for background checks and work-history information.

“There are some carer’s out there right now with very minimal training, and there may even be some who have no training whatsoever. There will be some who have been to really good organisations who have a good quality of care worker training behind them,” said Annie.

“Some of these people may have gone out and paid for their own courses hoping to appropriately educated, and have not been equipped with the skills that they need, and you can’t fault someone for that.”

“The real benefit of licensing is that if people don’t meet the required standards there is a mechanism for checking that and holding people to account.”

Paul Gilbert, Assistant Secretary for the Victorian branch of the ANMF echoed the sentiments of his colleague and identified the level of risk that having unlicensed and unregistered carers can potentially pose.

“Self-evidently this does expose aged care residents to a potential for harm,” said Paul.

“It is possible for any person who isn’t registered to move from one employer to another despite being found to be unsuitable. Indeed someone could work at two facilities and lose their position at one facility, and the other not be aware that this has occurred.”

“Nurses are required to report annually regarding any police matters, including charges for which they are yet to be found guilty, and the Board can suspend or limit a nurses capacity to work. Carers are required to periodically provide a police check.”

“The focus should be on what is best for the public, in this case, those receiving care in our commonwealth funded residential services.”

“Whether it is a nurse providing nursing care, or a personal care worker or assistant in nursing providing nursing care, the nature of nursing care demands that minimum standards exist for all, and be applied equitably, for the protection of the public.”

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