Senate debates

Tuesday, 13 February 2018


Aged Care

7:40 pm

Photo of Derryn HinchDerryn Hinch (Victoria, Derryn Hinch's Justice Party) Share this | | Hansard source

In September last year, I introduced into the Senate a bill concerning shocking conditions and the need for staff ratios in nursing homes and other aged care facilities—the Aged Care Amendment (Ratio of Skilled Staff to Care Recipients) Bill 2017. I made the point that these days the majority of aged care staff in Australia are personal care attendants, PCAs, or community care workers, CCWs. There has been a disturbing decline in the number of registered nurses over the past decade. A figure that really shocked me was that, in 2016, the average total care hours worked per resident was less than three hours a day. Some of the other figures were really suss, because several registered nurses risked their jobs to come and see me in my Melbourne office and challenged the staffing figures boasted by some nursing homes and aged care centres. They said that often the maintenance man, the guy who cut the lawns and the cleaner were included in the count of the number of staff supposedly looking after residents. The bill did not go to division. No major party agreed to support it.

I know that the Community Affairs References Committee inquiry into the quality of aged care and accreditation tabled its interim report today, but recent media reports from around the country show that things are getting worse in a lot of places. Food—or lack of it—is a great example. I've said before that prisoners in jail eat better than many of our pensioners and people in aged care. The last time I was in jail, as they say, or as I say, was at Langi Kal Kal Prison in Victoria. We cooked our own food. We had steaks, roast chicken, chops and homemade Greek yoghurt, because we were given as many litres of fresh milk as we wanted, every day—free.

An investigation by Bond University dietitian Cherie Hugo and accountancy firm StewartBrown has revealed that aged care homes spend just $6.08 on three meals a day—total. Six bucks! This is a decrease of 30c per resident since last year. Furthermore, the study shows that half the residents of aged care homes suffer from malnutrition. The survey counts the cost of ingredients and excludes 'nutrition supplements' et cetera, which cost an extra 89c a day. The study is based on financial reports from more than 800 aged care providers caring for about 65,000 residents, and it was published in the Nutrition & Dietetics journal. I saw one report which claimed that more than 60 per cent of people have lost at least 10 per cent of their body weight within the first six months of their admission to the facility. Some were obviously starving.

And listen to this for a shocker concerning incontinence pads. Aged care workers in one facility in Sydney's west have been told to leave pads on people if they are only half-wet. Care worker Esther Priol says that she and her colleagues have been directed to follow that order, even when elderly nursing home residents have asked to be changed. She said:

We have been told we have been spending too much money on pads. Unless they are 75 per cent wet, then the rule is we don't change them.

You divide the pad into fours and if three-fourths of the pad is wet, you change it.

That is a disgrace. Ms Priol is one of thousands of aged care workers nationally who complain about increasing rationing of everything from incontinence pads to meals. They say that they struggle daily to provide the most basic level of care and dignity for elderly people. Here in Canberra, a memo from aged care provider Bupa outlines a protocol for sticking to the continence 'pad quota', which is running 'over budget'. I would like to see one of their pencil-pushers sitting around in urine-filled underpants. Across New South Wales, 58 per cent of aged care workers surveyed said they have been not able to provide the level of care that residents deserve because of budget cuts and, of those, 80 per cent said staff shortages were the main buffer to providing proper care.

The results of a survey of 300 members of the Health Services Union will be released when the union launches a national campaign here in Canberra. I say again tonight, and I know I've said it before: it is to our national shame. And I just keep going back to something that I've been unapologetically saying for decades. Politicians and bureaucrats seem to forget that the only difference between old people and us is that they got there first.