ALMOST all nurses in aged care have been victims of aggression from residents and witnessed abuse between patients who are unaware of their actions.
But a NSW Nurses and Midwives' Association survey has revealed 61% of staff fear repercussions if they report an incident of assault against them.
Furthermore, three quarters believed a lack of staff was increasing the risk of elder abuse in their workplace.
NSWNMA acting general secretary Judith Kiejda said the new survey of aged care workers across the state uncovered disturbing truths about the prevalence and management of elder and staff abuse.
"Our members have confirmed that resident to resident abuse accounts for a large percentage of incidents observed in these aged care settings," Ms Kiejda said.
"More than 20% of aged care nurses we spoke to said they witnessed resident to resident abuse once or twice a week, while almost 30% had seen some form of resident to staff abuse in the same period,
"Alarmingly, more than 90% of nurses surveyed have been subject to some form of aggression from residents in their workplace.
"We're talking about physical abuse such as hitting, pushing, kicking, as well as verbal abuse in these residential aged care facilities."
The report found abusive behaviour had become normalised in the aged care sector.
"It would be inappropriate to criminalise people with cognitive impairment for committing acts of physical or verbal violence as they are essentially 'blameless' being affected by a brain disease rather than carrying out intentional ill will," it stated.
"However, there must be an effective system in place to keep both aged care residents and staff protected from physical or verbal attack.
"It is suggested that failure to protect a person from an assault by another could be seen as a form of neglect and that failure to protect is abusive by nature as it fails to uphold a person's dignity and respect."
Ms Kiejda said not all incidents were reported, management often failed to take steps to reduce or prevent abuse and some aged care providers "simply leave it to the 'too hard' basket".
"The current reporting of elder abuse in residential aged care settings in NSW requires urgent change," she said.
"We are calling for better staff training and the establishment of a federal regulatory framework so that aged care providers clearly understand what constitutes elder abuse and outlines best practices to eliminate it."
Submissions to the NSW Legislative Council inquiry into elder abuse closed last week, with hearings to follow. -APN NEWSDESK