The New Zealand Nurses Organisation says the New Zealand public would be shocked to know the staffing situation in most rest homes.

NZNO, together with union E tū, is hosting a summit today in Wellington calling for safer staffing levels in rest homes to ensure appropriate care is delivered to residents. They want to see a review of staffing standards in residential aged care – and for new and better standards to be made mandatory.

These calls come off the back of research carried out by the unions last year, which recorded the results of a survey of 1194 people working in aged care facilities. The results reveal that standard care is missed or delayed in almost every shift, and that aged care staff frequently face distress and exhaustion in their work.

NZNO Industrial Advisor Aged Care David Wait says the public would be shocked at the findings.

“We think New Zealanders care very much about the health, wellbeing and dignity of our seniors and would agree that the way we care for them reflects back on all of us.

“Our research shows aged care residents’ immediate emotional and physical needs often go unmet because staff are forced to ration the way they care, and if you’re not a priority you miss out.”

Right now aged care under-staffing is hurting everybody, and we’re confident the public will back our call for the government to review existing standards.”

David Wait said the current standards were published in 2005, were inadequate even then.”Things have changed dramatically since 2005. We have more people in aged care, they’re entering facilities later in life with much greater care needs and they’re living longer.

“What’s worse is that our current standards are completely voluntary and recent evidence shows, for example, that more than half of aged care providers deliver less registered nurse time than is recommended for hospital and dementia level patients.”

He also said medical conditions associated with care rationing, such as pressure ulcers and injuries from falls, would occur less frequently if we had better staffing, saving New Zealand money while we provide better care.

NZNO delegate and registered nurse Sacha Young says if there were enough staff to meet residents’ needs, people in aged care would have much better physical and emotional wellbeing.

“We don’t have time to do simple things like help residents take short walks, or sit with them for a few minutes when they are distressed.

“Not being able to do this puts a lot of stress on staff who would love to be able to provide better quality care. They often feel guilty or unfulfilled in their work and that’s a very unpleasant situation for everyone.

“She said a simple solution, however, would be to review the Staffing Standards and set mandatory minimum staffing numbers.

“It’s time to set staffing levels high enough to ensure our residents are always in safe hands.”

However, the New Zealand Aged Care Association says the unions’ report and calls for a review both fail to address the wider challenges facing the sector.

“It is always important to make sure that staffing standards are appropriate, however, focusing on staffing ratios as a way of improving care is a blunt instrument.

“We reject calls in the nursing organisation’s report for new staffing ratios. It is far more important to ensure we have the right people with the right skills, aptitudes and qualifications to care for our vulnerable older population and to ensure they are adequately paid.”

Wallace says the aged residential care sector is struggling to recruit and retain highly skilled and qualified staff due to the pay disparity with nurses working in hospitals, as well as immigration policy settings that create barriers for highly skilled overseas nurses.

“Rather than focusing on the blunt instrument of staff ratios, we should all be working together; the Government, the New Zealand Nursing Organisation, the unions and the sector, to address these challenges.

“Most urgently, we need to see the sector funded be able to compete with salaries paid to nurses in hospitals.

“And we need changes to immigration policy settings, putting aged care nurses back on the long-term skills shortages list so that our highly skilled and valuable overseas nurses have a pathway to residency.”

It is also important to acknowledge case studies in the report where care may have been inadequate.

“Any case of inadequate care is unacceptable, but we need to put things in perspective. Aged residential care providers are caring for more than 35,000 elderly New Zealand citizens. And our research clearly shows the significant benefits for an older person’s health and well-being.

“We wholeheartedly agree with the NZNO’s sentiment that New Zealanders care very much about the health, wellbeing and dignity of our seniors and how we care for them reflects back on all of us.

“We all care so let’s all work together to ensure we have a system that truly enables aged residential providers to provide that care for all New Zealanders.”


  1. While it’s great to see the Aged Care Association supporting a better deal for RN’s their tired and ongoing resistance to regulated safe staffing is a bit like the motor vehicle manufacturers who opposed set belts because it would cost them to install.

    ACA was wrong to resist equal pay and are wrong – again.

    ACA needs to “buckle up”.

  2. I have worked late and night shifts in aged care nursing homes where I was the only RN for 56-74 residents, at least half of whom were assessed as needing level 5 hospital care. Thankfully I work for an Agency and can refuse to go back to any nursing home where the patient:nurse ratios are so blatantly unsafe. For patients needing a similar level of care in a local DHB hospital the ratio would be no higher than 6-9 per RN. The legally required minimum ratio in Victoria state elder care facilities in Australia on night shift is 1 RN per 15 residents. All the research shows improved patient outcomes with higher RN numbers. What more needs be said?

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