PC report: Not everyone’s happy!

The ANF will take its complaints about the PC’s draft report straight to the top- to the Minister for Mental Health and Ageing, Mark Butler, tomorrow.

By Yasmin Noone

The Productivity Commission’s draft aged care report has come under fire from the Australian Nursing Federation (ANF), with the union’s representatives due to meet with the Minister for Mental Health and Ageing, Mark Butler, tomorrow to complain about the document’s percieved weaknesses.

ANF delegates will be travelling to country’s capital as a matter of urgency, to ask the minister to intervene and guarantee that the final report addresses the workforce measures omitted in the draft.

The ANF’s federal secretary, Lee Thomas, said that the union is extremely disappointed with the report because it ignores staffing levels and minimum care hours, which are vital for the delivery of quality care, and failed to recommend that all aged care workers be licensed.

“We had hoped the Productivity Commission would make recommendations that would improve the lives of aged care residents and the staff who care for them, but the fact is the report has paid little regard to the issue of care delivery,” said Ms Thomas.

“…While there is mention of competitive wages, the report pays only scant regard to this issue. Wage disparity has led to a staffing crisis. Ignoring this issue means the problem of attracting nurses and assistants in nursing to aged care will continue long into the future.”

Deputy Chairman from the PC’s inquiry into aged care, Mike Woods, explained that the ANF’s discontent with the report was unexpected.

“I’m surprised that they have come to that view,” Mr Woods said. 

“We completely understand that the workforce is what delivers the care. I would argue that we do fully acknowledge the importance of workforce issues and have made important reforms on them…There’s a whole chapter on workforce issues and key recommendations specifically on it.”

The debate on aged care, Mr Woods said, is all about how older people can be cared for. Workforce is therefore the “first issue”. “The secondary issue is about where people want to live and how we should deliver care.”

Mr Woods said that the Commission actually used the National Aged Care Alliance (NACA) “formula” for wages, as specified in section 4.4 of its submission.

NACA asked the PC to recommend “a dynamic and resourced workforce planning regime with adequate  funding to ensure sufficient skilled, appropriately qualified and competitively remunerated staff are attracted to and retained in aged care and respected for their work”.

According to Mr Woods, Ms Thomas signed up to the above wording on behalf of the ANF: “We agreed to their wording so we endorsed and adopted it.”

As far as the licensing issue goes, he said that the Commission leant towards the view that it was not essential, as put forward by the Liquor, Hospitality and Miscellaneous Union, and the Royal College of Nursing.

“That’s the view that we came up with- rather than have one licensing system that fits all, we [wanted to] focus on training and education. That’s why have recommended that in the report.”

Mr Woods said that the draft report addressed wage levels by recommending that the proposed Australian Aged Care Regulation Commission (AACRC) “take into account the need to pay competitive wages to nursing and other care staff delivering aged care services,” when assessing and recommending scheduled care prices.

As a result, he said, “there will be competition between providers and if they are not offering the sort of product that clients want, they will have to adjust their business or leave [the sector]…Competition will be good for consumers.”

The ANF’s assistant federal secretary, Yvonne Chaperon, does admit that the report devotes a number of pages to workforce issues and also advises that wages be “competitive”, but she said, its recommendations do not go far enough.

“The report says that wages should be competitive but with what? With the person who fills up the car with petrol, or with the hospital system?” Ms Chaperon said.

“Nursing wages are set up through enterprise bargaining agreements. By throwing wages open to the AACRC, then they are throwing [the issue] to the market to determine what a wage should be. Nurses should never be paid in that system and they should be paid in line with their public sector colleagues…who are doing the same or similar work.

“The licensing of essential workers is about the protection of the public …Assistants also give out medications but they are not accountable in the same way for their practice as the nurses.

“If you license them they all have the same training and are of the same quality and people will get the same level of care. I think that is a very good thing.

“I don’t believe that licensing will restrict staff at all… A certificate three is not onerous to obtain. I don’t think it will restrict providers finding workers in aged care.”

Commission calls for comment

Mr Woods however, has stressed that draft report is just that. “We will be seeking active consultation and have already spoken to Lee [from the ANF] about presenting a final submission to us and encouraged others to do that also,” he said. 

“The report is a good quality piece of work but it is a draft and it is deliberately there for comment and reaction. We are not claiming that the draft is so good that we wouldn’t change it. We do acknowledge that there are areas that still need to be explored but we are there to recieve feedback.

“Our concern is that care is high quality, safe and [caters for] older people’s needs. We need a more flexible care regime that is not tied to the old system…We are certainly putting [reform] forward as a substantial overhaul but in a measured way.

“We are keeping good parts of the current system but [the reform process] will be implemented over five years so that the industry has time to adjust. At the end of five years you will have a more efficient system and a more effective system that empowers older people and addresses their needs.

“Consumer groups representing older people, the peak providers and even the Royal College of Nursing have come out strongly in support of the draft. If we are meeting the needs of older people, as well as meeting needs of providers and protecting tax payers, then we are somewhere in the right place.”

To view a copy of the draft report, click here.

Tags: aged-care, anf, australian-nursing-federation, inquiry-into-aged-care, mark-butler, mike-woods, productivity-commission, workforce,

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