Flynn MP Ken O'Dowd (left) with Aged Care minister Ken Wyatt.
Flynn MP Ken O'Dowd (left) with Aged Care minister Ken Wyatt. Andrew Thorpe

Federal Aged Care Minister says SCCQ responsible for cuts

UPDATE: Federal Aged Care Minister Ken Wyatt has placed responsibility for Southern Cross Care Queensland's extensive cuts to nursing hours directly on the organisation.

Mr Wyatt said the Turnbull Government was strongly committed to properly funding sustainable, quality aged care.  

"Appropriate staffing levels are fundamental to this. However, staff ratios are not a decision for Government, they are the responsibility of aged care providers, with the Commonwealth constantly monitoring to ensure adequate care,” he said.

The Turnbull Government has also announced an industry led workforce strategy, establishing a taskforce to examine overall workforce issues.

Total Australian Government funding for aged care will grow by over 6% each year for the next four years, while funding for residential aged care will grow by over 5% each year for the next four years. 

The Government estimates that it will provide $12.5 billion for residential aged care in 2017-18, which will increase to $14.5 billion in 2020-21.

Maranoa MP David Littleproud said aged care provider Southern Cross Care - which provides services in Allora, Chinchilla and Nanango in his electorate - has not had any Federal Government cuts to funding.

"I must emphasise there's been no Federal Government funding cuts to Southern Cross Care,” Mr Littleproud said.

Mr Littleproud admitted the government had placed a year-long freeze on the indexation of one funding stream, but that was a result of some aged care facilities "gaming the system”.

He added that the funding - which usually increases roughly in line with CPI each year - would increase again next year at 50% of the normal rate, before returning normal levels the year after that.

"Southern Cross Care has made a business decision and, in a statement, said the reason for its decision was for "roster realignment” to "ensure best practice in service delivery and efficiency”,” Mr Littleproud said.

"The Federal Government does not mandate roster hours or staffing levels in aged care facilities.  The staffing level and mix is left to the provider but - under the Aged Care Act 1997 - the provider must provide appropriate levels of care to meet the nursing and personal needs of the residents,” Mr Littleproud said.

"I've made urgent representations to Southern Cross Care seeking an explanation as to what the provider's decision means for its three facilities in my electorate at Allora, Chinchilla's Illoura and Nanango's Karinya nursing homes.”

EARLIER: THE country's largest union, the Australian Nursing and Midwifery Federation (ANMF) is calling on the Aged Care Minister to stop a national aged care provider from carrying out wide-ranging nursing cuts and underpaying other workers at its aged care facilities.

In Queensland alone, Southern Cross Care is proposing to slash more than 2800 hours of care per fortnight from at least eight of its nursing homes, whilst in Tasmania qualified carers enterprise agreement hourly rates are ($20.83) which are under the Award.

In South Australia, ANMF Members employed at Southern Cross are also fighting against a reduction to staffing hours across five sites.

The Branch has notified a dispute to the Fair Work Commission.

Southern Cross Care Queensland CEO Peter Bell has previously defended the cuts, saying they were necessary to the long-term viability of the organisation.

He has also said there will be "no reduction in care” as a result of changes.

Last week, Mr Bell pointed to changes in the Federal Government's funding model that had "forced Southern Cross Care to review its operations”.

Federal Secretary Lee Thomas said the ANMF is horrified at the cuts to the work hours of registered, enrolled nurses and assistants in nursing (AIN) which she said will dramatically impact the care being provided to older residents in Southern Cross Care nursing homes.

"This means fewer and fewer care staff will be employed, or they'll have their work hours dramatically reduced, resulting in a compromised level of care for residents,” Ms Thomas said today.

"As we are all aware, there is already a crisis in aged care. The Aged Care Quality Agency is investigating an incident where a resident at a Southern Cross Care facility in the ACT had 50 fullgrown maggots in his wounds. The elderly man later died in hospital.

"A separate report shows the number of deaths in nursing homes from preventable causes has increased by 400 per cent over the past 13 years; a Senate Inquiry found current nurse ratios were 'too low and risked compromising the quality of care delivered' and there's increasing episodes of missed care, abuse and neglect of the elderly due to inadequate staffing.

"But Southern Cross don't seem to care. It's staggering that despite all of this alarming evidence about decreasing care standards and dangerously high workloads for aged care staff, we now have a national aged care provider slashing and burning over 1500 crucial care hours, along with operational and hospitality staff. As a not for profit organisation which has 'core values of care' it must surely put its people first.

"The ANMF knows that if these cuts to nursing hours are allowed to proceed, then Southern Cross cannot guarantee the quality of resident care won't decline. If Southern Cross is in any way blaming its cuts to nursing care on a $1.2 billion reduction in federal funding, then the Aged Care Minister Ken Wyatt must step-in.”

Ms Thomas said the ANMF will be supporting any action taken by Members of the Queensland Nurses and Midwives Union and the ANMF South Australian Branch and the Protected Action Ballot by the ANMF Tasmanian Branch.

"We will campaign against any cuts to nursing - for the sake of residents and their families.”

Southern Cross Care Queensland and Ken Wyatt's office have been contacted for comment.

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