It’s on – the federal election has been called and polling day announced for the 21 May. While maybe not exactly front and centre of the 2022 campaign, aged care is certainly in the spotlight.
Opposition leader Anthony Albanese made several commitments to the aged care sector in his budget reply speech to Parliament last month. The central plank of which was to back the Fair Work Commission’s decision on a workforce wage increase. Mr Albanese said the FWC’s decision must be “binding” and that any government would be obliged to fund it.
As for the Coalition, it has said it would also except a Fair Work Commission ruling on a potential wage hike for the aged care workforce. However, it has so far failed to commit to funding any wage rise through a levy.
Chief executive of the Council on the Ageing Ian Yates is happy to see aged care become an election issue. “Having an election competition on aged care commitments is a good thing, even if aged care really should be bipartisan. It will help focus attention,” Mr Yates told Australian Ageing Agenda.
Representing six aged care peaks, the Australian Aged Care Collaboration has called for all parties and independent candidates to join representatives of older people and their carers, providers, unions and health professionals in “a partnership to support the aged care workforce”.
Among AACC’s wish list of a new government’s actions are:
- a workforce partnership fund for providers to spend on increasing wages, training, minutes of care, 24-hour nursing and COVID-19 prevention and workforce retention costs
- a commitment to a multidisciplinary workforce by putting in place an allied health needs assessment and funding model by July 2024
- a minimum wage increase for aged care workers by funding the Fair Work Commission work value case, and award wage increases from July 2022.
The need for a workforce wage increase is desperately needed, said AACC, especially as salaries have failed to keep up with the ever-increasing cost of living.
Ensuring the workforce is suitably remunerated also ranks high on Leading Age Services Australia CEO Sean Rooney’s election priorities. “The absence of any commitment on wages in the budget has strengthened the sector’s resolve to remain firmly focused on workforce and the outcome of the May federal election,” Mr Rooney told AAA.
A focus on aged care as an election campaign issue has also been welcomed by Aged and Community Services Australia. For ACSA CEO Paul Sadler the sector’s workforce woes is a major concern. Speaking to AAA Mr Sadler said: “We need bipartisan support to comprehensively address the challenges posed by the current workforce crisis.”
Following the election announcement on Sunday, the Older Persons Advocacy Network called on political leaders to deliver a new, rights-based Aged Care Act by 1 July 2023.
OPAN CEO Craig Gear said the aged care system fails to meet peoples’ basic human rights. “The treatment we’ve seen of older Australians – particularly in residential aged care homes – is a national disgrace.”
While acknowledging that reforms were underway, Mr Gear said “action must ramp up to give older Australians the dignity and respect they deserve in their later years.”
OPAN is also calling for older Australians to be consulted over election campaign promises. “Only direct engagement with older Australians in the design of their services will change the experience of their everyday care,” said Mr Gear.
He added that an incoming government needs to put “the rights, preferences and needs of older people at the core of the aged care system.”
In an election statement, the Australian Medical Association has also addressed aged care. The AMA is calling for:
- mandated minimum staff-to-resident ratios in nursing homes
- mandated 24/7 on-site registered nurses, and according to the level of residents’ needs
- a mandated minimum qualification for personal care attendants that includes basic health care
- continuous training of the aged care workforce with specific funding attached for training.
Anglicare Australia has also released an election statement, accompanied by a plan for “a shock-proof aged care system”. Called Tipping Point, among other things, it calls for:
- a strong workforce
- a sustainable sector
- a wage increase for aged care workers, and a Workforce Partnership Fund
- fairer funding for aged care.
“More Australians than ever are saying that aged care is an election issue. Concern about the system has reached a tipping point, but Australians still do not have the aged care system they deserve,” said Anglicare Australia executive director Kasy Chambers.
Urgent action is needed to face the current crisis, said Ms Chambers. “The issues in aged care can’t be ignored any longer. We cannot afford to keep tinkering around the edges of the system, or doing more of the same. We owe it to Australians to tackle these issues once and for all,” she said.
In the wake of the election announcement, the Australian College of Nursing urged politicians of all stripes to prioritise the issues impacting the nursing profession. “This federal election, all political parties must place long term and tangible solutions to address the crisis facing the nursing workforce,” said ACN CEO Adjunct Professor Kylie Ward.
Adjunct Professor Ward pointed to the need for election commitments to focus on:
- ensuring registered nurses with specific training in aged care are available on site 24/7 in aged care homes
- addressing the unacceptable levels of occupational violence the profession experiences
- allowing advanced practice nurses to work their full scope.
The solutions the ANC have advocated for to fix the workforce crisis are directly informed by the lived experiences of nurses on the frontline settings of care delivery – including aged care, said Adjunct Professor Ward.
“During the campaign, I urge political leaders to listen to the concerns of Australia’s largest health profession, as the health of our nation will suffer without nurses,” she said.
With the federal election campaign finally underway, the Australian Nursing and Midwifery Federation has written to all major political parties and independent MPs and Senators seeking their commitment to the union’s priorities to reform Australia’s health and aged care systems.
Among the ANMF’s priorities is a call for “a well-funded and regulated aged care system that supports a strong, valued aged care workforce to work safely and effectively to deliver high-quality, dignified care to all residents and clients.”
“In our wealthy, well-resourced and highly-developed country, every Australian should be able to expect and receive the very best health and aged care, delivered in a timely fashion, according to their wishes, in a place of their choosing,” said ANMF federal secretary Annie Butler. “To achieve this, genuine, significant and sustained reform is urgently required.”
The ANMF will be sharing politicians’ responses to its election priorities with its 310,000 members and supporters.
Meanwhile, through a series of powerful TV ads, the ANMF has also called for urgent action to fix a sector in crisis.
In one ad, an aged care nurse is seen wiping away a tear as she says: “If you were to come into an aged care facility and see what I see every day you’d be heartbroken, you’d be disgusted and you’d want to make a change too. Because our residents deserve more. Our staff deserve more, and change needs to happen.”
In another, a nurse speaks directly to the Morrison Government: “What part of this don’t you get? You’ve had that many testimonies and people saying what’s going wrong in aged care. We’re saying it’s in crisis. Why aren’t you believing us? What are you going to do about it? I want a government that’s got some guts; that will take a stance on this; that will give us the resources we need.”