NSW members of parliament have voted down a bill that mandated registered nurses in residential aged care facilities.

The bill proposed that aged care homes would require to have registered nurses on duty 24 hours a day. Having this bill denied could potentially lead to a cut on the number of registered nurses that work in nursing homes.

In 2014, the NSW government dropped the requirement for registered nurses to be available around-the-clock in aged care facilities. This latest bill was set to reverse that.

There was a great amount of support for the Shooters, Fishers and Farmers Party’s bill – with Labor, the Greens, as well as Independents Alex Greenwich and Greg Piper backing it.

The votes were divided 35 to 45. Philip Donato, who put forward the bill, emphasised the need for more nurses being available, “people in aged care should receive the best possible care available, especially those with high needs, who should have access to a registered nurse 24/7”.

Supporters have argued that registered nurses are necessary in aged care as they are the ones who are best equipped to carry out essential daily tasks such as overseeing medications and procedures like wound care.

The bill was supported by a number of nursing unions, including the NSW Nurses and Midwives Association, and other health professionals as well as the Country Women’s Association.

Brett Holmes, General Secretary of The NSW Nurses and Midwives Association, said that the decision was “shameful” as it would inevitably lead to a decrease in the quality of care that is offered.  

“This is a tragic outcome for families with loved ones in high care residential aged care facilities across NSW and is a clear abrogation of responsibility by the Health Minister and Nationals MPs purporting to represent rural communities,” Mr Holmes said in a statement.

“We need to ensure a high standard of care is maintained throughout our nursing homes in NSW, particularly when the aged care sector is in such a dire state nationwide”.

This decision comes not long after the bill, to keep at least one registered nurse on duty at all times in high care nursing homes, was unanimously passed in the NSW upper house.

Mr Holmes had high hope for the bill to be passed, “last year, the former NSW Health Minister indicated the state government would remove the legal requirement from legislation, despite widespread community opposition and the recommendations of an upper house inquiry to maintain it”.  

“We’ve been lobbying on this issue since it first arose in 2014 because we know removing registered nurses from high care nursing homes will erode the safety measures that protect staff and residents.

“We’ve all heard the heartbreaking stories from families with loved ones in residential aged care who have suffered as a result of understaffing and skill mix issues – this is unacceptable and it’s time for our politicians to act”.

Holmes says that qualified and experienced nursing staff are pivotal to ensure safe resident care, “we must retain this standard in NSW or we will risk significant downgrades in the quality of care delivered.”

“Aged care providers are already tightening their belts as a result of funding cuts in the last federal budget, they don’t need another excuse to cut qualified nurses.”

However, the NSW Health Minister Brad Hazzard and National MPs have argued that passing the bill would threaten the future of some rural and smaller nursing homes as they would be forced to close if it were mandated that they have a registered nurse on duty at all times.

“It needs to be handled in a nuanced fashion,” said Mr Hazzard

The NSW Health Minister explained in a statement that the bill was defective and the government are currently working with federal health officials to develop high level care for nursing home residents.

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