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Indigenous, dementia workforce programs safe, as sector’s fund merges with health


All existing indigenous aged care workforce specific activities and dementia training activities will continue, the Department of Health has confirmed to Australian Ageing Agenda, but other aged care specific workforce programs remain in doubt.

In the Mid-Year Economic and Fiscal Outlook (MYEFO) yesterday the Federal Government announced the merging of the aged care and health sectors’ workforce funds, to save $595 million over four years.

The government announced a “streamlining” of the two sector’s workforce funding programs but did not provide detail on the fate of the $220 million budgeted for the Aged Care Workforce Fund, which itself was the subject of a 15 per cent cut in the May federal budget.

The Aged Care Workforce Fund supports a range of initiatives including the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Aged Care Employment Program, Dementia Care Essentials training and incentives to undertake education and training in aged care.

There were reports yesterday that the Aged Care Education & Training Incentive Program and Aged Care Vocational Education and Training professional development programs would cease.

A departmental spokesperson told Australian Ageing Agenda that merging the health and aged care workforce funds provided an opportunity to “further review and align the needs of the health and aged care workforce in line with government priorities.”

“While specific indigenous aged care workforce activities and dementia training activities will transition to the Health Workforce Fund, the overall priorities for the Health Workforce Fund will need to be determined,” the spokesperson said.

“The current programs offered through the Health Workforce Fund provide support to a range of health professionals that also work in the aged care sector. These include registered and enrolled nurses, allied health professions and Aboriginal health workers and practitioners.”

The department did not provide a breakdown of the overall budget allocation to aged care specific programs.

Stocktake ‘raised questions’ says minister

The merging of the workforce funds comes after the government last week released the long-awaited stocktake into government-funded workforce programs, four months after it was completed by consultants Health Outcomes International in mid-August.

As Australian Ageing Agenda has reported, the stocktake was announced by former minister Mitch Fifield in January, who said it would identify any duplication or gaps in programs and “provide an evidence-based foundation for developing an aged care workforce development strategy.”

In a statement releasing the analysis last Friday, Minister for Aged Care Sussan Ley said the report “raises questions about inefficiencies and duplication in the system, particularly in more-costly programs, as well as a clear lack of checks and balances in place to ensure programs are actually delivering what they promise.”

Responding to yesterday’s announcement, Labor said it was clear the stocktake was “more about cost-cutting than developing a comprehensive strategy to address the workforce crisis.”

Sector’s workforce ‘an afterthought’

Provider peak bodies have also criticised the funding cuts.

Leading Age Services Australia said the merging of the workforce funds would “almost certainly impact the ability of aged care to attract and recruit people to the industry.”

“While details of this measure aren’t yet clear, it is certain that workforce – a key issue for aged care struggling under increasing demand for services – has again been relegated to an afterthought at a time when it needs to be prioritised,” said LASA chief executive officer Patrick Reid.

Aged and Community Services Australia said aged care had significantly more acute issues in recruiting and retaining staff, particularly in remote and rural areas, and it called on the government to quarantine funds specifically for aged care “as a specialist area requiring intensive workforce development, innovation and a secure labour supply.”

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