Almost 12,000 people have signed a petition calling on the government to address a funding anomaly that sees registered nurses working in aged care earning, on average, around $10,000 less per year than their counterparts in public hospitals.
The New Zealand Aged Care Association (NZACA) launched the month-long campaign on June 5, inviting support for pay parity for aged care nurses by going to www.fairpay.org.nz, calling on Health Minister David Clark to provide funding that would enable the sector to match the salary packages paid by the DHBs.
The campaign has the strong support of Tina Mills, general manager of Kaitaia rest home Switzer Residential Care, who said nurses were the clinical backbone of rest home and hospital care.
"You cannot have a caregiver and a registered nurse on the same wage, or the DHBs' registered nurses on a different pay rate, with allowances, than aged care nurses," she said.
"Many years ago elder hospital level of care was delivered by the DHBs, and we are thankful that currently this level of care is in our hands. Registered nurses in aged care work very hard, and they take a huge amount of clinical accountability. I am worried about the impact on retention and recruitment in general for the future of the Claud Switzer Memorial Trust."
Mills' predecessor, Jackie Simkins, regularly expressed the same concern over many years, claiming that the trust's inability to match DHB salary scales made it extremely difficult to recruit and retain the registered nurses who were crucial to providing the level of care demanded by the Ministry of Health and deserved by residents and the community.
Nor is public support for that view anything new, but according to NZACA chief executive Simon Wallace, the petition was giving that support greater impetus.
"The response to the petition has been strong and consistent," Wallace said.
"The public are recognising that registered nurses working in aged care deserve to be valued equally to their peers working in public hospitals. And it's time the government recognised this too.
"Last week's report from the Independent Review of Covid-19 Clusters in Aged Residential Care stated that the Ministry of Health now acknowledges the substantive work of the aged residential care sector in preventing and managing the virus. Our aged care nurses and their teams have been at the front line of this work, ensuring that out of more than 36,000 residents in 650-plus facilities around New Zealand, just 39 were affected by Covid-19.
"It's time to value them for what they are worth."
The salaries paid to aged care nurses were directly related to the funding rest homes received from their district health boards – a per bed per day rate based on the level of care each resident was assessed for and covering a range of costs, including nurses' pay.
"This funding undervalues the incredible skill and dedication of aged care nurses," he added.
"They are in charge of multiple complex health conditions, as well as palliative and end of life care. They do not have the support of expert clinical teams that are available in hospitals. And they lead teams of health care workers who tend to the needs of our most fragile."
The cost to the government of funding the sector to ensure pay parity for aged care nurses, an increase of at least $10,000 per annum per nurse, would be around $70 million.
"Given Budget 2020 has injected $4.37 billion into the district health boards, there is plenty to go round, and no excuse not to invest in aged care nurses and older New Zealanders," Wallace said.
"Our target for the petition is 15,000 signatures, but we'd love more. We're running this campaign until the end of June, so head to www.fairpay.org.nz and have your say."