Many aged care stakeholders welcome the Federal Government’s $17.7 billion aged care budget, saying it finally addresses many of the sector’s top issues.
However, the budget measures have disappointed workforce stakeholders, who say the government’s commitment falls short.
The budget handed down by Treasurer Josh Frydenberg on Tuesday night provided almost $8 billion over four years to reform residential aged care in response to the recommendations in the Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety.
It includes funding to require providers to provide a minimum of 200 care minutes for residents each day including 40 minutes with a registered nurse from 1 October 2023 and at least one RN 16 hours a day, and more than $3 billion for a $10 Basic Daily Fee supplement to help pay for daily living services.
The budget also provides $6 billion to provide 80,000 new home care packages.
Leading Age Services Australia CEO Sean Rooney said the budget delivered historic reform plans for aged care.
He said he was most pleased about $26.7 million to develop a new aged care Act, an independent pricing authority to determine the true cost of delivering high quality care and the additional home care packages.
“The government has responded in a large part to all of the recommendations from the royal commission and has now provided a package that gives us a road map to the future, which if executed appropriately will realise the translation of the aged care system, envisaged by the royal commissioners,” Mr Rooney told Australian Ageing Agenda.
“For aged care workers and aged care services, it gives us hope and the expectation that we can move from a system that is fundamentally driven by over-compliance and be able to realise the system’s focus on excellence,” he said.
Mr Rooney said “the heavy lifting starts now”.
“There is so much work to do to translate these commitments into tangible actions that will realise those outcomes for your Mum and Dad and for the thousands of elderly Australians,” he said.
Ian Yates, chief executive of consumer peak Council on the Ageing Australia, said there were “scores of measures in this package” that he is pleased about, including the $10 Basic Daily Fee supplement.
“The other thing that we are very pleased about is we finally have an absolute commitment to get rid of bed licence system and the Aged Care Approvals Round. The fact that it won’t come in fully until 2024 is not terribly relevant, it doesn’t matter,” Mr Yates told AAA.
“Now that is announced, those good providers will know they can plan and develop and for providers not doing so good, they’re going to be coming under competitive pressure,” he said.
However, he said the aged care workforce is a “vulnerability in the package” due to border closures.
“Unless they can work out a special immigration program with quarantine and so on for the care workforce and if the borders aren’t open until mid-next year, then we will see significant workforce pressures,” he said.
Mr Yates said he would like to see a commitment from the Labor government of these measures.
“Even if they want to criticise the package, we need to get a commitment from Labor that they will implement these things so that everybody can have certainty over the next few years that we’re set on a path that isn’t going to be disrupted. That’s critical,” he said.
Aged and Community Services Australia CEO Patricia Sparrow said the budget provided hope to aged care providers, workers and consumers.
“Australia now spends half of what comparable countries do on aged care, and while this investment won’t close that funding gap entirely, it will provide structural relief in many critical areas,” said Ms Sparrow in a statement on behalf of the Australian Aged Care Collaboration.
Budget falls short
While many aged care stakeholders have welcomed the latest funding measures, an aged care workforce expert and union groups say the budget falls short.
Macquarie University’s Ageing and Aged Care Researchers Network chair Professor Denise Jepsen raised concerns over the minimum care minutes measure.
“While the nursing staff are boosted in the budget, it’s still the non-nursing carers who provide the bulk of the care. They need attention, not just the nurses. The attention they need includes training and career pathing,” Professor Jepsen told AAA.
She said there is work for the unions to ensure wages are increased.
The Australian Nursing and Midwifery Federation said the budget was “definitely not the once in a generation reform package” promised.
ANMF federal secretary Annie Butler said the government should have gone further and mandated minimum staffing levels commencing now, with a registered nurse on site at all times.
“We’ve always said, if you don’t fix staffing, you can’t fix aged care system. So the announcement of a 200-minutes of minimum care minutes per resident is a step in the right direction, but why wait until 2023?” Ms Butler said.
Health Services Union national president Gerard Hayes said the funding package would not address the chronic crisis aged care has been in for years nor wages.
“To properly attract and retain a dedicated workforce, the government must commit to paying aged care workers more than $21 an hour. It had a chance to do that [but] it failed,” Mr Hayes said.
“Committing to increased care minutes is entirely hollow unless you have a plan to attract and retain the workforce needed to provide that care,” he said.
United Workers Union aged care director Carolyn Smith said the budget “fails to address fundamental issues facing the sector”.
She said the $17.7 billion over five years paled in comparison to the $50 billion to cover the funding gap highlighted by the royal commission.
“The funding shortfall is leading to horrendous human costs in aged care, with older Australians left unsafe and vulnerable, and workers left physically and emotionally exhausted,” Ms Smith said.