National accuses Government of ignoring bleak warning that aged care sector will fail if staff shortages aren't addressed

National says the Government ignored a letter with a dire warning that the aged care sector would go into complete failure if something wasn't done to address staff shortages.

The letter was written by a former District Health Board (DHB) boss who wrote to Health Minister Andrew Little warning saying aged care facilities will be forced to close unless urgent action is taken. And now his warnings are coming true.

Thursday marked the final day of the New Zealand aged care conference in Christchurch. A sector that says it's in crisis and tired of inaction.

"Aged residential care is really, really struggling, we do feel neglected," said Aged Care chief executive Simon Wallace. 

Former DHB head Chris Fleming echoed Wallace's concerns. 

"Given the state that the aged care sector is in, we need action now."

"There is absolutely no doubt the aged residential sector is in crisis," said National's health spokesperson Dr Shane Reti. 

The sector has over 1200 vacancies for registered nurses, or RNs, and that is 25 percent fewer than is actually needed

"And remember in these facilities the RN is often the sole medical professional caring for large numbers of people in these facilities," Fleming told Newshub.

"We've got registered nurses that are working double shifts, sometimes triple shifts, they're really burnt out, they're really fatigued," Wallace said. 

Fletcher was the head of the Southland DHB and the lead chief executive for New Zealand's health of older people. In June he wrote to the Health Minister to express his "significant concerns"

He wrote his concerns in a three-page letter.

"I feel it is my duty to be very clear with you as I believe all of the signs are present indicating imminent system failure," he said.

"Unless some decisive actions are taken I fear that there will be an acceleration of bed closures across the sector and increased risk to patients and staff.

"My fear is that inaction is creating a race to the bottom... closure of facilities and beds are biting"

Facilities and beds have since closed. 

"The closure of more than 1000 beds across care homes across New Zealand and that's not a good situation for older New Zealanders," said Wallace.

Dr Reti says the Government ignored a desperate cry for help.

"We see no actions that suggest the Minister took any heed whatsoever of a very senior person across the sector representing all 20 DHBs." 

The Minister denies ignoring the letter.

"A letter from an advocate is not evidence of anything, it's evidence of a letter being sent."

And is defiant.

"So when you talk about a system collapse of the hundreds of thousands of people in retirement villages, what is the system collapse you're talking about?"

The issues are nurse shortages across the board exacerbated by less pay in the aged care sector - all made worse by New Zealand's immigration policy to attract more here. 

"Fair remuneration and the pipeline of both international domestic nurses coming into the workforce and staying there," Fleming said. 

"If we were in Government today we would turn on the day one pathway to residency for international nurses," Dr Reti added. 

But the Government says it is addressing the problem

"Part of the immigration reset is making sure that it's easier for that sector," Little told Newshub.

A sector that says it's been neglected.

"And older people feel neglected, this is not just about our sector, this is about the older people we care for," Wallace said. 

That's 40,000 New Zealanders who don't have enough people or places to look after them.