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Strategy to boost aged care workforce underway with June deadline

The Federal Government has announced the focus and membership of the aged care workforce taskforce, with the omission of a worker representative drawing the ire of unions and Labor. 

When releasing the Tune Review in September, the government announced Professor John Pollaers would chair the multi-stakeholder taskforce that it committed $2 million to in the May 2017 Budget.

Minister for Aged Care Ken Wyatt told the COTA Next Phase of Aged Care Reform conference on Wednesday that the 12 members of the expert taskforce would develop a wide-ranging workforce strategy focused on supporting safe and quality aged care.

“Everything is on the table but there are only two things that matter, safety and quality,” Minister Wyatt said.

“The taskforce will explore short, medium and longer term options to boost supply, address demand and improve productivity for the aged care workforce.”

The taskforce’s terms of reference emphasise workforce planning, skills, supply and retention of workers, as well as cross-sectoral challenges and opportunities with related sectors such as health and disability.

The taskforce will also be expected to consider rural and remote workforce issues and and a workforce that can support the diverse needs of older Australians.

Minister Wyatt said the work of the taskforce would be “inclusive, with exhaustive national consultation” to all stakeholders including aged care workers and unions, however workers are not represented among the 12 members, which includes strong provider, academic and departmental representation.

Members well-known to the aged care sector include HammondCare CEO Dr Stephen Judd, Blue Cross chief executive Alan Lilly, Aged & Community Services Australia CEO Pat Sparrow, University of Western Australia pro vice chancellor and former Brightwater Group CEO, Dr Penny Flett, and Council on the Ageing chief executive Ian Yates.

The Australian Nursing and Midwifery Federation, which represents nurses and assistants in nursing nationally, said the decision to exclude workforce representatives from the taskforce was “a major insult” to nurses and carer in the aged care sector.

“It’s inconceivable that the government has set-up a taskforce to investigate workforce issues and plan a future workforce strategy without nurses and carers,” said Annie Butler, the ANMF’s assistant federal secretary.

Labor called on the federal government to “do the right thing and invite relevant unions to join” the workforce taskforce immediately in a joint statement from Shadow Minister for Ageing Julie Collins and Shadow Assistant Minister for Ageing Helen Polley.

“The deliberate snub of unions that represent registered and enrolled nurses, personal care workers and other health professionals that provide care to older Australians completely undermines the legitimacy of the taskforce,” they said.

Australian Ageing Agenda asked Minister Wyatt why aged care workforce representatives were not included among the taskforce membership, and received a response from the department saying it would result in a “large unwieldy group” if all interested parties were included on the taskforce.

A spokeswoman for the Federal Department of Health said there were many and varied interests involved and “unions and workers will be significant contributors to building a shared strategy.”

“Careful thought has been given by the Minister and the taskforce chair to shaping taskforce membership, how the taskforce can maximise participation across all the interests involved, and practical ways to make sure that the detail needed can be gathered, analysed and effectively used,” she told AAA.

“Taskforce membership drawn from all those interests would result in a large unwieldy group.”

She said the taskforce was designed to draw together people who could bring high-level strategic thinking and experience, from inside and outside the sector, to the process of strategy development.

The taskforce will oversee and sponsor a combination of working summits, public submission processes, technical and specialist groups to inform its work.

Among measures to include workers, all unions with coverage of aged care are being invited to be part of a specific purpose advisory group to the taskforce, the departmental spokeswoman said.

The taskforce is scheduled to report to Minister Wyatt by 30 June 2018.

Taskforce membership

  • Chair Professor John Pollaers
  • Dr Michele Bruniges, secretary, Federal Department of Education and Training
  • Dr Penny Flett, pro vice chancellor, University of Western Australia
  • Dr Stephen Judd, CEO, HammondCare
  • Professor Linda Kristjanson, vice-chancellor, Swinburne University
  • Alan Lilly, chief executive, Blue Cross
  • Professor Andrew Robinson, co-director of Wicking Dementia Research and Education Centre, Tasmania, and director Dementia Training Australia
  • Catherine Rule, acting deputy secretary, Federal Department of Health
  • Tim Shackleton, CEO, Rural Health West
  • Pat Sparrow, CEO, Aged & Community Services Australia
  • Dr Adrian Turner, CEO, Data61, CSIRO
  • Ian Yates, chief executive, Council on the Ageing

Related coverage: Senate report will inform taskforce on aged care workforce: Wyatt

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14 Responses to Strategy to boost aged care workforce underway with June deadline

  1. Julie A Sloan November 4, 2017 at 3:01 pm #

    Always good to see workforce planning initiatives. I suggest the taskforce adopt the recommended guidelines of the The International (ISO) Standard on Workforce Planning ISO30409:2016 and the Australian Standard on Workforce Planning AS5620:2015. The ISO has been written by subject experts from more than 23 countries and asserts the importance of engagement of all stakeholders in the process. Julie Sloan, Chief Executive Workforce Planning Global.

  2. Peter Vincent November 4, 2017 at 6:24 pm #

    While it is pleasing to see this long overdue review of the aged care work force, it always concerns me when we leave the planning to academics and not include representation of those who work at the ‘coal face’ and who have the academic credentials to have a meaningful contribution. I strongly urge the task force to review the academic requirements for entry into the certificate 3 courses in aged care and establish minimum requirements. I further urge them to put forward a nationally recognised and standardised curriculum for this level of the work force with minimum classroom and practical training times not to be less than 6 months equivalent full time study.
    I also urge the implementation of a year 11 or 12 study stream in our secondary education systems to provide workplace experience as a vocational option.

  3. Alan November 6, 2017 at 3:23 pm #

    It was always planned to be an “industry-led” taskforce. Aged Care is not an industry you capitalist money-grubbers, it’s a HEALTH CARE sector.

    And God forbid the nurses and carers who break their backs every day, work thru their meal breaks and stay back after their shift to care for residents have a say in what’s required.

    But of course, of any health profession, nurses are the most trusted by the general community – so why would providers and government want THEIR voice to be heard.

    Everyone should have no doubt this taskforce will come up with the cheapest an minimalist workforce possible, so they can maintain their $1.1 billion in annual profits and continue to view their residents as soft commodities.

  4. Janet Pearce November 6, 2017 at 9:22 pm #

    Let’s consider minimum staffing levels in aged care.
    It is imperative that legislation protects our vulnerable elderly citizens and the staffs who provide care and work with them. Without minimum staffing levels the mental and physical stress for staff who are overworked and underpaid increases, constantly making working conditions unsustainable. Aged Care is constantly seeing competent, caring staff leave the industry, not because the wages are low, and they are, but because they cannot perform the job they love, to the standard of care that their own personal moral standard dictates to them, is reasonable and fair.
    Care staff should be able to finish their shift feeling they have provided good care and have had positive interactions with the people they care for.
    Educational pathways that require all aged care staff (both residential, and home and community care) to undertake mandatory work experience in a residential aged care facility can alleviate workloads for full time residential care staff. Trainee staff may be involved in indirect care such as bed making, putting clothes away and other activities that may involve residents who would like to be interdependent. One on one activity with residents provides confidence for trainee staff as they personalise their experience by involving themselves in the day to day life of individual residents.
    Trained staffs are essential and necessary, RN’s and EN’s, but also numbers of staff is also important: staff who are not necessarily medically trained, but are skilled in communication and have a genuine interest in working and caring for older people.

  5. Dave November 6, 2017 at 11:28 pm #

    Another ‘expert’ panel stacked with the usual suspects: just how many CEOs does it take to represent the coalface?
    We’re in good hands

  6. Frances Hessing November 9, 2017 at 8:54 am #

    I work at the coal face and have done for many years and have witnessed first hand PCA ,s new on the floor, the industry will never improve untill it becomes one recognized course which is both extended and is more hands on throughout and offers more than it does from people that want to work in aged care not just anyone who would struggle to get any other job in the workforce, it’s not surprising when I read about some of the despicable events the elderly endure from some care workers there is no formal entry. Wake up make it a career not just a job, we do some of the worse jobs you could ask anyone to do and pay us the lowest you can get away with while the companies we work for have a licence to print money from the industry.

  7. Val Fell November 9, 2017 at 11:11 am #

    The majority of people in residential aged care facilities are people living with dementia therefore it should be mandatory for anyone working in dementia specific facilities to be Dementia-trained. Who will represent carers on this new committee? Their voices need to be heard so the people making decisions that will affect them (and most people in the community in the coming decades) understand the constant cry “There is not enough trained staff in residential facilities and often in-home providers do not have trained staff either.”

  8. vikki warner November 9, 2017 at 12:55 pm #

    Review and Reform can obviously benefit the aged care industry/sector.
    Yes, we do need industry experts on the taskforce and maybe I am naïve in believing that there will be working parties that engage at the coalface/service level with both care staff and recipients of these services.
    I would hope that the staff client ratios would be one of the first pre-determinants to improving outcomes of client satisfaction with services. Client load and care needs always out weight the low levels of staff on duty being able to meet and provide optimum levels of services. For several years now organisations have been looking at the principles of Client Centred Care, Inspired Care, Individualised Care and, quite rightly, these focus on client rights, needs, preference, choice, encourage client decision making and identifying the individuals goals yet staff client ratios remain stagnant at the lowest common denominator.
    As someone that has worked at service level having direct contact with clients the frustration is that despite the increasing frailty of clients entering the aged care “system” there is no time for staff to be able to fully implement these principles. Even though the desire is high to follow and adhere to these principles of care there will continue to be a task oriented approach in most instances unless there is an increase in staff to client levels.
    I acknowledge the paradigm shift from medical health models to other paradigms of social and rights models and this has, in my opinion, benefitted the client but this should not result in the lessening of appropriately trained and professionally skilled staff.

  9. Robyn November 10, 2017 at 9:24 am #

    And here I sit and wonder why NO organisation will recognise my full load year of study for Diploma of Dementia Care. Now nearing the end of another few part-time years to gain the Associate Diploma and still I will not be paid the same as other degree holders or put in a position where my knowledge and skills are useful. I also have the good quality old fashioned TAFE cert III Aged Care and years of experience working in dementia specific units and home care. Thank goodness I have done all this study or I might not be able to mop the floor well enough to get paid $22 per hour.
    I am able to consult, educate and support decision making for those newly diagnosed. I am able to assess behaviour’s and symptoms and recommend strategies. I have focused heavily on communication in dementia for both the person with the disease and their carers. I have studied the pharma and non-pharma therapies BUT I CAN NOT use this knowledge within any job scope because my degree is not recognised. I am trained but can only get recognition as an AIN. (NSW, Mid North Coast)

  10. Caroline November 12, 2017 at 12:18 pm #

    Yep the usual suspects on the Workforce Taskforce so expect little change!

    We need a much greater diversity of voice to inform change. Academics have a place as do direct care workers both professional and non-professional.

    Will the Taskforce explore strategies on the ground that have been tested before they make recommendations? Will any strategy involve an injection of real $$ into training and support? So much focus on dementia but there is also a wave of older adults with mental illness and addictions living at home. Care/support/direct workers have so little experience in this space to care and manage the complexities of supporting this smaller cohort.

    Talk to people who have a long interest in the aged care workforce and who are witness to the types of skills and training for the future, be they providers, direct staff, indirect staff and so on.

  11. Beth Scott November 14, 2017 at 10:30 pm #

    I recognise all of the comments above about the great work done in a multidisciplined sector and hope that adequate training requirements are in place, recruitment of people with the right values and attributes(there are now low cost tools that can measure this and determine candidates that will do the right thing when they are and are not being monitored) and also treating people well so that we retain the goodies in the Aged Care workforce.
    My observation and concern over the past 20 years is the lack of strong leadership in the Aged Care Sector, and this is also true for Health Care more generally. We need strong leaders, passionate about Aged Care, who are fabulous at LEADING not just managing and who can motivate and develop teams of people – making them feel valued, appreciated but also providing them with genuine opportunities to capacity build and access opportunities to further their careers in Aged Care.
    Too often do I see Managers in roles that are probably great nurses or clinicians and wanted to “take the next step” but really don’t have leadership skills nor the desire to develop themselves or their teams. Often poor performance is not managed propoerly and you lose good people because they have to work around poor performers or inflexible workers – this is a huge issue and we are loosing exceptional talent because they have to work with people who aren’t managed properly and haven’t aspired to embrace change and improvement. There is plenty of research available in the health care sector that could support genuine exploration of this issue. I hope that there is some investment in the roles from top down and bottom up – after all working with capable and competent people is what keeps us at our best at work.

  12. Ian Rolph November 15, 2017 at 1:28 pm #

    Thoughts appreciated, a call for some advice. Very sensitive area this and for good reason. This year after 18 years of commercial management and leadership experience (not aged or health care related), I signed on for a Master of Healthcare Leadership, my main driver was a genuine interest in helping people and aged care seemed like a good place to start given it is only going to get bigger and bigger over the next 20 years or more. With talk in the media about the workforce growing in this sector I thought I had made a wise choice. My course has been going well but of late I have been looking around the fringes as to where my skills may be used once I finish. I get my satisfactions from motivating and encouraging staff, building a sense and culture of esprit de’ corp but, and it is a big but, I have no healthcare experience. Right or wrong my university encouraged me to sign up in full knowledge of my background. So here I have this massive chasm or disconnect. I have leadership skills (tick), but no healthcare experience (cross). Currently I am considering whether or not to forget about pursing this course any further and to look at other sectors. Given the contributions to this article there is no doubt the readership is from the coal-face. Hence I would appreciate any frank viewpoints on whether I am truly wasting my time or not. Looking for straight answers and this seems like the perfect place

  13. Dave November 17, 2017 at 8:12 pm #

    No healthcare experience? Sorry Ian, but you’re wasting your time.

    Corporate babble about needing high level leadership and management skills is rubbish; it’s just not that hard to run a high care facility (One main source of income, one major operating expense).

    Getting the care right is the really hard part.

    What’s the most comprehensive standard? (2)

    What standard is responsible for the most non-compliance? (2)

    What standard gets the highest funding…and the most downgrades? (2)

    What standard is the source of most complaints and horror stories? (2)

    The matron of old may not have had a management degree but she knew about nursing care. They knew how to prevent pressure injuries(and were horrified if one ever occurred), actually looked at their patients (and knew what to look for) and would haul you over the coals if your work wasn’t up to scratch, made stupid mistakes or didn’t complete documentation.

    Incredibly, they managed to provide high-level care without even knowing about the genesis of leadership theory or an excel spread sheet.

    If you don’t know the difference between CAPD and COAD or cant tell myeloma from myoma, how can you possibly direct the appropriate care? How will you manage complex end of life care and how will know if your team’s doing it right? (At the very least you’re going to need a damn good clinical manager and an endless stream of nurse consultants…good luck with that!)

    I’m sure your heart is in the right place Ian, but more non-clinical managers will enforce the government/provider myth of home, not hospital (Did I mention that you probably wont have any RNs on duty?) and accelerate the downhill slide of care standards

    Besides, the aged care industry is a basket case. You can do better.

  14. Rafaela Lopez January 2, 2018 at 4:20 pm #

    I am sorry my comments are a little late but I was away from Australia when the announcement of the Taskforce was made.
    Looking at the membership of the Taskforce it would appear that no-one representing multicultural Australia is included. I cannot believe that. I mean, where are representatives from structures such as the Federation of Ethnic Communities Council of Australia (FECCA) or the prestigious Centre for Cultural Diversity in Ageing? When it comes to the Aged Care Workforce -who are the ones who are really and truly at the coal-face- it is absolutely essential that the needs of multicultural and multilingual (including Aboriginal) Australia be explored to by the Minister’s Taskforce. Anyone who is familiar with the 2016 Australian Population Census, would know that some multilingual communities are ageing at an even faster rate than the Australian-born. The fact that people with dementia or related conditions lose their second language (i.e. English) is an extremely well-known fact. Others may have had a series of difficulties in learning English if they arrived in Australia as older adults. Highly trained Aged Care Workers who are multilingual speakers would be a necessity in many places around Australia.

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