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Wednesday, 14 February 2007
Page: 139

Mr BYRNE (7:24 PM) —I commend the member for Lowe for his very passionate and eloquent contribution on an issue that concerns many in my electorate, where I have a large and growing number of people who are 55, 65 and over. They are very concerned about their security and protection when they go into a nursing home. Labor supports the Aged Care Amendment (Security and Protection) Bill 2007 as a step in the right direction. I would like to mention a particular case that someone contacted my office about to highlight the point that this is a step in the right direction but that more needs to be done.

I have contacted the gentleman concerned and he has allowed me to mention his name. His name is Alan Rogers and his mother lives in a nursing home. Alan is concerned because his mother is elderly and frail—just the sorts of preconditions that the member for Lowe was talking about. In his mother’s nursing home there are 30 elderly people in high care. I will not name this nursing home. They are looked after by two people during the evening—two people looking after 30 people with high-care needs. He was very concerned about this. For example, what would happen if one person was sick and there was only one person looking after those 30 people, including his mother? As I said, his mother has high-care needs.

He contacted a federal member of parliament to get the ratio of carers to people because, being a reasonable individual, he thought that the government would have established guidelines for looking after elderly people at night in a nursing home that would have said that there should be, for example, three nurse carers for 30 people, or four because of their high-care needs. What Alan found was that there were no guidelines. There is nothing in the regulations that effectively says that there has to be a set number of carers. There is no set ratio. He found that quite staggering. In fact, when he contacted my office I basically disbelieved him—I did not believe that there would not be a ratio. You would think that, in terms of the care of patients and some of the most vulnerable people in our community, there would be a stipulated standard—a minimum number of people—but there is not. To confirm that, we checked with the minister’s office and we were told that there is no stipulated ratio. That does not provide a measure of comfort to people like Alan, and he has asked that I raise his concern in this place tonight. This government has not mandated a specific number of carers to look after elderly and frail people like his mother. And I support him in this because I do think he requires that information.

Vulnerable and elderly people feel disempowered, particularly with management of nursing homes. I say at the outset that most management and staff of nursing homes look after their charges with a great deal of care, concern and compassion. This is not an attack on the nursing home system per se. What we are trying to do is afford a very vulnerable group of people maximum protection. This could be your mother, your father, your sister or your brother. So it is very important, considering the contribution they have made to the community, that they are afforded maximum legislative protections to ensure that you can leave someone like Alan’s mother in a nursing home late at night knowing that she is going to receive the maximum standard of care available and all of the protections that she deserves.

My time is running short but there is another example of a nursing home in the Dandenong area where an elderly lady was becoming increasingly incapacitated. She could not speak English and required the help and care of two fantastic daughters to assist her throughout the day, particularly when she was being washed and showered. There was a change in the management of the nursing home and the management said that they could not be present during these times. This caused the over-80-year-old woman great distress and she was very distraught at her rights being taken away from her. It was only through a very long complaints process that this matter was resolved.

So, whilst this legislation moves in the right direction, I do not think it is the panacea that the minister’s second reading speech would have us believe. This legislation is a step. Elderly people do not deserve to continually be living in fear. Because we have more and more people, particularly in my electorate, shifting into nursing homes and aged-care facilities, it is the responsibility of the government and us, as legislators, to offer the maximum form of protection and to ensure the reporting of suspected and alleged sexual abuse and serious assault of residents. We also want to make sure that the staff feel protected and supported when coming forward with such allegations. This legislation takes that step forward and therefore we support it. I know we are moving to the adjournment very shortly so I will finish on that note.

Debate interrupted.