Lengthy inquiry recommends consideration of nursing requirements, publication of staff ratios and efforts to tackle pay in aged care.
The Commonwealth should look at introducing minimum nursing requirements for all aged care facilities, a Senate inquiry into the sector’s workforce says.
The inquiry also recommends the government require aged care providers to publish their staff-to-client ratios in order to facilitate greater choice for seniors.
The Senate’s community affairs committee, which tabled its report yesterday evening, said it was concerned that the ratio of staff to residents in some facilities “is too low and risks compromising the quality of care delivered.”
Noting the long-held arguments for and against minimum ratios, it said that “a compromise position may be to mandate a minimum number of nurses working at any one time and that there should be a registered nurse present at all times.”
It acknowledged that the sector may require “additional funding and support from governments in order to meet such a mandatory minimum requirement.”
The committee said it was concerned at the evidence presented in relation to poor working conditions and threats to workers’ health and safety, which it heard were impacted by issues including insufficient staffing levels.
“The committee considers poor working conditions an urgent matter,” it said.
Priorities for new taskforce
The inquiry, which was initiated in December 2015, also recommended that the new multi-group taskforce charged with developing a sector workforce strategy should develop industry-wide career structures and take “clear steps” to address low pay in the sector.
The committee commended those aged care providers who have established their own career structures and continuing professional development models for staff. Such models should be explored to identify best practice that could be replicated nationally across the industry, it said.
Nonetheless, the committee said it was concerned that pay and conditions for aged care workers were becoming increasingly uncompetitive with other sectors.
The move to “zero hour contracts” is making the industry less attractive for workers, it said.
The committee said it acknowledged concerns that “reductions in funding have impacted the sector’s ability to recruit and retain workers, and offer higher rates of remuneration.”
Noting the widespread concerns about the quality of courses for aged care workers, which have persisted for years in the sector, the committee recommended the workforce strategy taskforce work with the Australian Skills Quality Authority “to establish nationally consistent minimum standards for training and accreditation.”
Similarly, it recommended the taskforce work with the Australian Nursing and Midwifery Accreditation Council to ensure aged care is core within nursing curriculum and to establish dementia skills training.
Aged care worker registration
More broadly, the committee recommended government should examine consistent workforce regulation across carer sectors such as disability and ageing, which would include national employment screening or a worker registration scheme.
It would also include the full implementation of the National Code of Conduct for Health Care Workers, a recommendation in line with the findings of the Australian Law Reform Commission’s elder abuse report released last week.
Australian Greens Senator and Community Affairs References Committee chair Rachel Siewert, said it was clear that a workforce strategy was needed and that action had to be taken to address the myriad of aged care workforce development issues.
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