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Aged care staff report understaffing as top issue


Four out of 10 residential aged care workers are planning to leave the sector within five years because they are overworked, stressed and underpaid, a national worker survey shows.

The survey involved 4,138 residential aged care staff aged 18-59 including personal care workers, advanced skilled carers, nursing assistants, enrolled nurses, kitchen and catering staff, cleaning staff, occupational therapy assistants and support workers.

Within five years, 37 per cent of respondents say they probably won’t be working in the sector while less than a third said they were sure they would remain in the sector (30 per cent).

Just over a third of care staff and nursing assistants, which accounted for 68 per cent of respondents, also report they probably won’t be working in aged care five years from now (37 per cent).

The top reasons influencing care staff and nursing assistants are being overworked due to understaffing (75 per cent), stressful aspects of the job (74 per cent) and income insufficient to meet the demands and commitments of the job (67 per cent).

Almost three-quarters of care staff and nursing assistants say they have to often or always hurry residents because they have too many things to do (74 per cent) while 78 per cent of all respondents say they often or never have enough time to complete their tasks.

The survey was commissioned by aged care unions United Voice and Health Services Union National and released on Monday along with a five-point plan to improve working conditions. Their recommendations include:

  • one extra care hour per resident per week
  • fair wages for staff
  • developing career paths to recruit and retain the workforce
  • an appropriate funding model that ensures quality care and quality jobs
  • restrict the use of zero-hour contracts, agency and labour hire work for home care.

United Voice assistant secretary and aged care director Carolyn Smith said the results were an eye-opener about the experiences of the workforce.

“Workers and those in their care deserve so much better. These workers can’t wait for the royal commission to report; they need a workforce strategy and investment now,” Ms Smith said.

HSU National president Gerard Hayes said federal budget cuts have eroded the sector’s margins.

“Our members often report anecdotes of five dollar a day food budgets or rationing of sanitary pads.” Mr Hayes said.

Aged care peaks agree more staff needed

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

Aged and Community Services Australia CEO Patricia Sparrow said building the aged care workforce needed to be a priority.

“We’ve got 350,000 workers who are doing a great job and are doing the best that they can do but we just know that we need more staff,” Ms Sparrow told Australian Ageing Agenda.

“We know there are systemic issues that need to be addressed around remuneration and we are working across the board with government and others to try and address those things,” she said.

Ms Sparrow agreed there was no need to wait until the royal commission made its findings.

“We can as a country decide that we are going to prioritise and resource aged care so we can have the number of staff that we want to have to deliver the care that we want to deliver and the care that communities are expecting,” Ms Sparrow said.

Leading Age Services Australia CEO Sean Rooney said the survey findings were another sign of the pressures facing the sector.

He highlighted a recent LASA member survey on financial performance, which found that four out of five aged care CEOs are experiencing financial pressures that are impacting their ability to meet residents’ needs and expectations (read more here).

“With around half of residential aged care facilities operating at a loss, providers have to tighten their belts. In practice this sees the withdrawal of services, job losses and reduced investment in services and infrastructure,” Mr Rooney told AAA.

He said the aged care sector needed to be seen as important to attract staff.

“Promoting the values and rewards of caring for older Australians, highlighting relationship-based models of care, showcasing the scope of roles and opportunities available, all contribute to attracting passionate and caring individuals who can make a positive difference in the lives of older Australians,” Mr Rooney said.

Aged Care Guild CEO Matthew Richter said it was well known that the number of aged care workers had to increase by over 150 per cent by 2050.

“It is a shame aged care workers are paying the price for years of uncoordinated and unfocused government policy. It is more than evident policy has not been keeping pace with the changing needs of senior Australians,” Mr Richter told AAA.

Other key findings about all staff

  • 94 per cent don’t have enough time to talk to their residents in their care
  • 97 per cent say residents want them to stop and talk
  • 75 per cent have seen a reduction in staff on the floor in the last two years
  • 93 per cent have seen an increase in residents with more complex care needs during their time in aged care
  • 94 per cent have seen an increase in dementia
  • 32 per cent say that they don’t have enough training to deal with difficult situations.

Read more about the unions’ five-point plan here.

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2 Responses to Aged care staff report understaffing as top issue

  1. Pat October 16, 2019 at 12:44 pm #

    It is obvious that the residents are not getting the care they deserve and need. The fault is not that of the caring staff who deserve to be recognised in all ways, for the exhaustung work they do, with lack of staff ratios. I am sure that the management have no idea and no interest in what it is like to have a client in the shower and 6 buzzers demanding attention. I am not a care worker, but have seen what these ladies have to tolerate.

  2. Christine Harpham October 16, 2019 at 5:52 pm #

    As a registered nurse with 35 years experience in Acute Care and Aged Care facilities I have never seen such a demoralised workforce as the Aged Care workforce. They cringe when asked a question because they have been abused and accused of negligence by family members, abandoned by managers and demeaned by the general public. I can only equate the image to a dog that has been beaten. Once the bedrock of society were the carers, the midwives, the healers, those that saw pain and didn’t shy away but walked towards the suffering and helped.
    We as individuals are going to have to pay more for our care- that is a given. But first, we need to look at the profession, the worth, the training, the mentoring, the support and have the guts to OWN THIS!! Michael Jackson once sang about the man in the mirror. This is our time to look in the mirror.

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