The failure to address wages and other aged care workforce issues in the Federal Budget is of immediate concern for the Opposition, the shadow minister for the sector has told an industry conference.
Shadow Minister for Ageing Mark Butler provided the Opposition’s response to $18 billion in aged care measures in last week’s Federal Budget at Aged and Community Services Australia National Online Summit on Monday.
There is very little in the aged care budget for the workforce and the government has said nothing about wages, Mr Butler said.
“I think anyone who has analysed this sector with any degree of seriousness recognises that workforce and particularly paying aged care workers enough to keep them in that workforce and attract the right people has been the endemic challenge for many, many years now,” Mr Butler told delegates.
Mr Butler also questioned why the aged care royal commission’s recommendation for a registered nurse on duty at all times was not mandated.
“There’s been no explanation for that. And equally, there’s been no explanation why the minimum care minutes that the royal commission recommended saw the government only pick up the first phase of those and see them introduced about 15 months later than was recommended,” Mr Butler said.
The royal commission recommended to mandate residents receive 200 minutes of care per day including 40 minutes with a registered nurse and an RN on site for a minimum of 16 hours per day from July 2022. This should increase to 215 care minutes with at least 44 minutes from an RN and an RN on site at all times from July 2024.
However, government has opted for the first part of this recommendation only and from October 2023. It said the new Aged Care Act from 1 July 2023 will set minimum staff time standards for residential aged care.
Robust provider accountability also missing
Mr Butler also raised an issue with aged care provider accountability for funding.
“There was an opportunity with the Basic Daily Fee supplement of $10 introduced by the government last week to start to see some more robust accountability for the use of additional taxpayer funds by the residential care sector.”
“I think the government has substantially underdone this element in their package,” Mr Butler said.
The government said in its response to the royal commission’s recommendation that residential aged care providers will receive the supplement after committing to report to government quarterly on food expenditure. It also included the need to report on other services such as linen and cleaning in factsheets released with the budget.
However, the royal commission recommended much more detailed reporting including an annual review of the goods and services provided to meet residents’ basic living needs and particularly nutritional requirements. Reporting should also include spending on raw and pre-processed foods, kitchen staff costs and hours, year-on-year changes in expenditure and the number of residents experiencing unplanned weight loss and dehydration.
“You can expect Labor to be talking publicly about the lack of more robust arrangements around up providers accounting for the way in which they are using taxpayer funds,” Mr Butler said.
Hunt deflects questions on aged care wages
Following his address to the summit, Minister for Health and Aged Care Greg Hunt responded to questions about how the government would ensure aged care wages were sufficient to attract the workers needed.
He said the “vast bulk” of the $17.7 billion package would “ultimately end up paying staff”.
“That’s actually what that funding is intended to do,” Mr Hunt told delegates.
“[There is] $33.2 billion going into the $10 a day supplement, $3.9 billion going into the care minutes and so all of that goes to the capacity to inject funds into both more staff but better pay for existing staff,” Mr Hunt said.
When pressed about how these measures would lift wages now, Mr Hunt reiterated the size of the aged care investment in the budget.
The budget measures provide an “enormous investment” and “opportunities at every front”, however there will always be people who ask for more, he said.
“It does sound as if no matter what we give to invest in the in the sector the answer is, ‘but what next’. But right now we have the largest implementation plan in Australia,” Mr Hunt said.
Mr Butler was also asked about the pay increase that’s needed for aged care workers.
“It needs to be substantial. I’m not going to place a particular figure on it,” Mr Butler said.
The ACSA National Online Summit takes place 17 – 21 May.