Coalition aged care spokeswoman Anne Ruston on Friday said she wanted to see older Australians getting the care they needed and deserved.
“But in the absence of being able to get access to registered nurses, and to be able to have them meet the requirements of the government’s legislation, the government needs to answer what happens to these homes if they aren’t able to make those care minutes,” she said.
“We know that in rural and regional areas, with the best of intent and the best of commitment, that many providers, and that includes councils, are not able to get access to workforce.”
A Health Department spokesman said 5 per cent of facilities, mainly in regional and remote areas, would be eligible for a 12-month exemption from the 24/7 requirement to give them more time to transition, and this had not been factored into the workforce figures.
Department modelling has also not yet been updated to reflect the impact that a 15 per cent pay rise for aged care workers, awarded last year by the Fair Work Commission, will have on workforce numbers.
Both the government and stakeholders expect the pay rise to improve the situation by making the sector more appealing to both existing and new staff.
“This pay rise will help deliver more carers with more time to care so we can do what the royal commission asked of us – ensure older people are treated with respect and dignity,” Wells’ spokesman said.
Lori-Anne Sharp, the federal assistant secretary of the Australian Nursing and Midwifery Federation, said there had been worker shortfalls for a long time and the latest data demonstrated the problem.
“People have left because the workloads have been at crisis point, and it’s a low-paid sector. Some of the initiatives that have happened in the last 12 months are trying to change the tide,” she said.
While the government’s new measures would exacerbate worker shortages in the short term, she said they were vital in creating a cultural shift among aged care providers that would make workloads safer and ensure long-term sustainability. The 15 per cent pay rise was also an important factor.
“We’ve still got a way to go but it’s a start. It will take time to build because it has been decimated over the last two decades,” she said.
Aged and Community Care Providers Association chief executive Tom Symondson said workforce shortfalls were extremely concerning.
“The impact of the pandemic, the loss of workers from the sector and the financial strain being felt by a majority of aged care providers has meant the situation is even worse,” he said.
“Not only do we need to address the current shortfall, we need to increase workforce supply into the future to meet growth in demand for aged care services.”
Symondson said his association was working with the government on solutions, including potential changes to visa rules to give more flexibility for visa holders to work in aged care.
Its pre-budget submission also calls for aged care nurses to receive salaries that match their colleagues’ in public hospitals, to stop them from leaving the sector.
“The goal is to make aged care a sector of choice by improving training and development opportunities, skill levels and pay,” he said. “It will take a range of initiatives such as these over the short and long term to improve the sector’s ability to attract new workers and retain skilled and experienced staff.”
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