Mandatory staffing needed in aged care

April 1, 2021

NZNO, E tū and Grey Power are lobbying hard to get as many people as possible to sign an open letter to Prime Minister (PM) Jacinda Ardern, calling for mandatory staffing levels in aged care.

Close to 5000 people had signed when Kai Tiaki Nursing New Zealand went to press.


NZNO organiser Christina Couling said the three organisations behind the letter want to meet with the PM mid-year. “We want to meet her with delegates and member leaders from the sector, present the letter and lobby her and other relevant ministers on the issue. Our aim is to get as many signatures as possible before then.”


Understaffing in the sector was the focus of this year’s Caregivers Week, held in late March, and campaigning for signatories to the letter was part of the week’s activities.

Couling said staff shortages meant workers did not have time to provide the best possible care and often had to make difficult decisions about rationing care. “This takes its toll on care staff and many do unpaid extra hours to get through their work.”

Aged Care needs safe staffing now - Sign the open letter to Jacinda NOW!

Open letter to the Prime Minister

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern,

When you told the country to get ready for lockdown in March 2020, you said we’d get through this if we all came together. You asked us all to be strong and to be kind.

Aged-care workers have been doing this. But it has been tough going. We all want the very best for residents in care facilities, but the staffing system is broken. Not enough staff means missed care or care not provided in a timely manner. There is ample evidence that understaffing leads to an increased risk of bruising, skin tears, falls, infections and medication errors. Residents’ nutritional needs are not being adequately met.

We all need mandatory minimum safe staffing levels to keep our vulnerable elderly safe and to enable aged-care workers to deliver quality care. Safe staffing levels are now, shockingly, 15 years out of date. And worse, they are voluntary for aged-care facilities. For us, that’s just not good enough.

We know this is a concern for you too, and we welcomed your Party’s commitment in 2010 to minimum staffing levels for nurses and caregivers to be mandated in regulations. Now it’s time to deliver on this.

Jacinda, our staffing levels in aged care are unsafe. Unsafe staffing means residents aren’t getting the care required, and that’s not the New Zealand you are trying to rebuild. We need your leadership to help staff to do their jobs better each day, and to give our elders the quality care they’re entitled to.

We urge you to meet with Grey Power, representing the voice of our elders, and aged-care unions, E tū and NZNO, as soon as possible to take steps towards delivering the care New Zealanders deserve.

In anticipation,
New Zealand’s aged-care workforce and Grey Power.

Staffing ‘inadequate’

People needed to know that current staffing levels were inadequate. “We don’t have mandatory minimum staffing levels in the sector. The guidelines we have are optional, out of date and do not provide for the increasingly complex health needs of older people.

“We are campaigning for mandatory minimum staffing levels across the sector. We need more nurses and caregivers on every shift to provide safe care,” Couling said.

Decades of privatisation had resulted in the current understaffing and undervaluing of workers in the sector, she said.

The care of the elderly was in the hands of private companies, some of which made massive profits. “We can’t let profit get in the way of care. As long as the Government delegates responsibility for care of the elderly and frail elderly to profit-driven companies, without sufficient regard for safe staffing, then the provision of care and the quality of care will suffer,” Couling said.

Caregivers Week was started by NZNO’s College of Gerontology Nursing to celebrate the significant contribution of health care assistants/caregivers to those in aged residential care. It is held each year in the last week of March.