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Industry expected to take lead on workforce strategy, says government

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Minister for Rural Health Fiona Nash at senate estimates on Wednesday

The Federal Government has said that aged care providers are ultimately responsible for meeting the sector’s workforce challenges and industry will take the lead in developing a workforce development plan.

Appearing before a senate estimates hearing last night, Minister for Rural Health Fiona Nash said that while government was committed to working with industry, providers were “ultimately responsible for workforce.”

“The government can’t be responsible for every part of workforce across the aged care sector and neither should we be,” she said.

“The providers are responsible and they understand that.”

She said the government’s approach to working alongside the sector was sensible and pragmatic.

A spokeswoman for the Department of Health told Community Care Review work is expected to commence on the strategy midyear and any recommendations are to be cost neutral.

She said the Federal Government already provides to the sector both directly and in relation to broader programmes, such as in education and employment.

“The strategy will be about, and for, the industry,” the spokeswoman said.

The former minister responsible for aged care, Senator Mitch Fifield had commissioned an audit of government-funded aged care workforce programs in 2014 with the stated aim of developing a national aged care workforce development strategy.

That stocktake was released in December and referred to the need for a nationally coordinated strategy and capability framework.

In the Mid-Year Economic Fiscal Outlook, Minister for Aged Care Sussan Ley announced the merging of the Health Workforce Fund and the Aged Care Workforce Development Fund into a single funding pool, to deliver savings of $595 million over the forward estimates.

Dr Margot McCarthy, deputy secretary ageing and aged care with the Department of Health, told estimates that the government would provide assistance to industry in developing a strategy for workforce development, the details of which were currently being worked through.

Ms McCarthy rejected suggestions by Labor Senator Helen Polley that the government was “outsourcing its leadership on workforce.”

A cross-departmental process chaired by the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet was also underway to coordinate the government’s workforce activities, she said. The departments involved in that process are health, education, immigration and employment.

Ms McCarthy said the Department of Health would draw on this work in its submission to the recently announced senate inquiry into the aged care and disability workforce.

Donna Moody, first assistant secretary ageing and aged care services, told the hearing that many of the levers for workforce growth “reside with employers.”

The department said the consolidated health workforce fund would ensure better coordination and efficiencies of programs, especially in areas of overlap such as nursing and allied health planning.

Dr McCarthy

Dr McCarthy

“It can ensure that we can be as efficient as possible in the administration of the funding that government supplies to workforce initiatives,” said Dr McCarthy.

The department reiterated that dementia and indigenous programs funded under the former aged care workforce development fund were unaffected by the change.

My Aged Care

Elsewhere, the department outlined significant improvements in average and maximum call wait times to the My Aged Care contact centre, dropping from an average of 10 minutes in August to 27 seconds for the month of December.

The single longest wait time in December was 13 minutes.

Now that the government has gathered 6 months of data it said it would be undertaking more detailed analysis including the time between assessment and service provision, as well as gaps in service regions and waiting times to access services.

CALD strategy

Greens Senator Rachel Siewert asked the department why the government’s commitment to annual reporting against the National Ageing and Aged Care Strategy for People from Culturally and Linguistically Diverse (CALD) Backgrounds had been removed, to which the department said a decision had been taken by the former minister to formally review the strategy upon completion.

Ms Moody said the strategy’s working group were conscious of the reduced public reporting against progress but this was continuing to occur in an informal way.

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