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Staffing levels of greatest concern to workers


A lack of staff to provide basic care to residents is the most pressing concern of 90 percent of aged care workers, a national survey has found. 

The majority of aged care workers are also concerned about adequate staffing to provide high care (83 per cent) and dementia care (63 per cent) and a lack of experience and qualifications among staff (61 per cent), according to the survey conducted by the Australian Nursing and Midwifery Federation.

The National Aged Care Survey 2019 involved 2,775 aged care staff including nurses, personal care assistants, personal care workers, assistants in nursing and enrolled nurses from around the country.

Elsewhere in the survey more than half of respondents reported inadequate time for bathing residents (56 per cent) and providing assistance at meal times (53 per cent).

Staff also reported they were victims of abuse, bullying and harassment and the report found workers were unfairly blamed by employers for providers’ own inadequacies.

Survey participants also reported being intimidated by management, ongoing excessive workloads, incidents of violent and aggressive behaviour, especially towards staff caring for residents with dementia.

ANMF federal secretary Annie Butler said the findings indicated a lack of responsibility from the government and providers.

Annie Butler

“It presents a bleak picture of aged care in Australia and points to a clear abrogation of duty by governments and aged care providers,” Ms Butler said.

She said aged care staff dealt with overwhelming workloads that had negative consequences on their physical and emotional health.

“Despite their best efforts and intentions, staff simply cannot manage the workload demanded of them.

“They also identified feeling the increasing pressure of being held responsible for the failings of the aged care system rather than the system itself and the authorities who are meant to be responsible for ensuring its safety and quality being held accountable,” Ms Butler said.

She said nurses and carers have become scapegoats for the abuse and neglect.

Peaks concerned

(from left:) Sean Rooney, Pat Sparrow, Matthew Richter

Leading Age Services Australia CEO Sean Rooney said care staff were feeling the pressures of an aged care system falling behind community expectations.

“The aged care system settings have not kept pace with the changing needs and expectations of the growing number of older Australians. This is placing further pressure on providers and frontline staff,” Mr Rooney told Australian Ageing Agenda.

“Our industry wants more staff. We want our staff to be adequately skilled and qualified and we want our staff to be appropriately remunerated. The Aged Care Workforce Strategy provides the pathways to realise some of these outcomes. However, Government policy and funding settings are lacking,” he said.

He said most aged care residents are positive about the care they receive “but often quality is only preserved at the expense of unsustainable burdens on provider finances and staff.”

Workforce presents some of the most complex challenges and opportunities for aged care in Australia, said Patricia Sparrow, the CEO of fellow peak body Aged and Community Services Australia.

“It is clear though, that in the delivery of quality care and services they are our most valuable asset and there must be a greater investment in their development,” Ms Sparrow told AAA.

“We are feeling very positive about what the additional scrutiny of the royal commission is going to mean for outcomes in this area. But this doesn’t change the fact that there is an urgent need to respond right now,” she said.

The Aged Care Guild CEO Matthew Richter said all aged care staff deserved a positive and safe workplace.

“As with all Australians, our aged care workers have the right to work in a safe environment, free from abuse, bullying and harassment,” Mr Richter told AAA.

Without it, the shortfall of staff the sector is experiencing will worsen when it actually needs to increase by more than 150 per cent by 2050, he said.

“The negativity being expressed towards our workforce is only going to make the job of meeting future demands even harder,” Mr Richter said.

He said all aged care staff, including nurses and personal care workers are key to ensuring older Australians receive quality care.

Other concerns raised by aged care staff include:

  • current commonwealth funding levels (51 per cent)
  • greater transparency/accountability for funding (38 per cent)
  • quality and amount of food for residents (36 per cent).

The ANMF will release a companion report soon with findings from a survey it conducted with the broader community.

Access the report here.

Comment below to have your say on this story

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5 Responses to Staffing levels of greatest concern to workers

  1. Country carer May 8, 2019 at 3:26 pm #

    The problem with nurses in aged care is that they don’t consider themselves as “hands on” and they’re very good at delegating. So you have a staff member being paid for not assisting with the residents because “it’s not my job”! Guess what? Every single person who works in an aged care facility is there because of the residents, from the Manager to the Cleaner, and helping them is everyone’s job.

  2. Passionate Carer May 8, 2019 at 6:18 pm #

    Totally agree with the above comment….but it’s not happening. Cleaners can’t help because they aren’t allowed to because they aren’t “qualified”. Some nurses will help, but very few. I remember in a staff meeting once when the carers asked…(after being told that if a call bell is not answered within 5 mins, they will get a file note, even when we were short staffed every day) …”then why can’t the nurses answer a buzzer if they are walking past ?”….the response from the CN and GM was “because nurses go forwards, not backwards”.

    I’ve been caring for a long time and in my opinion, where I live..I’m yet to find a facility, where management walk the talk and genuinely care about the well-being of their staff and residents..but every where you go it’s all about their KPI’s and putting the profits first into their pockets.

  3. Karyn Dijkstra May 8, 2019 at 7:56 pm #

    I have been watching the Aged Care Royal Commission with great interest after my mother spent 6 years in a facility. All the people at the “coal face” so to speak say more staff is crucial to improving aged care. After my experience I believe minimum ratios of care staff, and RNs to residents is vital, and those ratios should apply to all shifts. So many distressing and potentially dangerous experiences could be avoided if there were more well trained staff. It would also reduce the stress and burn-out of existing staff. Listening to the aged care providers at the Royal Commission it seems they are the only stakeholders against ratios.

  4. Janet Pearce May 9, 2019 at 8:22 pm #

    Staff need to feel appreciated, valued and supported by management. Mandated staff:resident ratios will allow staff to enjoy the work they love and residents to have meaningful interactions with carers/staff who have time to be considerate and kind when engaging with our older people.

  5. Country carer May 10, 2019 at 11:54 am #

    To those who support mandating ratios…are you then willing to pay more for care? What if the mandated ratios send small providers to the wall? The current funding structure is based on resident needs and financial situation so mandating ratios means funding according to staffing levels. Big change.
    And in regional areas where staffing is already an issue, where are all these “well trained” staff meant to come from?

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