A Tauranga aged-care nurse says nurses and caregivers are struggling to meet the needs of residents as a result of low staffing levels in the sector.

This comes after the "In Safe Hands" report was released by the New Zealand Nurses Organisation and E tū, underlining how aged-care residents were being denied sufficient care, as a result of "unsafe" staffing levels.

However, the Ministry of Health said ensuring a suitable workforce for aged residential care was an important issue for them and it hoped to work with the nurses organisation to review the system.

The report found that elderly were only getting around six minutes of care an hour, with unions warning some residents were dying as a result.


The research surveyed 1194 respondents across the country, including more than 600 registered nurses, nearly 60 enrolled nurses, more than 450 caregivers and nearly 20 facility and clinical managers.

More than 70 per cent of the respondents agreed that staffing levels were not high enough to provide quality care.

One nurse reported that as staff were so busy, some residents felt like a "burden" ringing their bell for help - often preferring to "lie in pain than make a fuss".

Local registered aged-care nurse Anne Chainey said this was the reality on a daily basis for many staff and residents.

She said dealing with residents under such high pressure caused them to often be treated as "tasks".

Chainey said this was not why she or any nurse went into the profession.

"It's a daily struggle."

One respondent in the report said sometimes, in the rush, residents were "processed like products in a factory".


Standards for level C secure environment care, such as dementia, recommended six minutes of care per hour be given to each patient.

Simon Wallace of the Aged Care Association said with the ageing population, the sector was going through significant growth and the problem was "multi-faceted".

However, Wallace said the solution to the problem was to not necessarily have higher staffing levels, but instead ones with the right skills.

"As an example, a good teacher can teach 10 or 40 kids, ratios are not the solution to this issue."

He also raised that as there was no pathway for residency for international nurses or caregivers, skilled staff were being lost annually as visas run out.

"25 per cent of our overall workforce is on some kind of visa."

Finding Kiwis to do the job could be challenging, he said.

The association had struggled to keep qualified nurses in aged-care due to the pay rate, as hospitals were paying close to $5 or $6 more an hour following government negotiation last year, said Wallace.

He criticised the New Zealand Nurses Organisation and E Tū for not advocating the same standards for the sector in terms of pay and staff retention.

New Zealand Nurses Organisation industrial adviser for aged-care David Wait said this was a fair concern raised by the aged-care association, however, it was "about a lot more than the money".

Wait said addressing staffing issues would help reduce turnover in the first instance.

Ministry of Health group manager of health system improvement and innovation Emma Prestidge said the ministry acknowledged the concerns of aged and residential care facilities.

She said ensuring a suitable workforce for aged residential care both currently and in the future was an important issue for providers, district health boards and the Ministry of Health.

Staffing will be considered and reviewed as part of the wider review of the Health and Disability Services Standards (2008), she said.

The nurses organisation would be invited as a key stakeholder to participate in the standards review process, she said.

The Ministry of Health was looking into other quality improvement initiatives, which include improved complaints management processes through DHBs and the Ministry.

Summerset chief executive Julian Cook said although they currently had the right number of staff, they were finding it increasingly difficult to find good nursing staff.

"Nurses are not currently on the long-term skill shortage list, and we believe they should be."

Summerset had put in a benefits package to attract staff, that included free health insurance, free shares in Summerset, funeral cover and travel draws.

However, Cook said they were reassured by feedback that they were doing the job well.

He said they did not have strict staffing ratios as it all comes down to the needs of the residents.

Summerset currently had two nursing job vacancies for its Katikati branch.