RN supply pool crucial to hitting targets, says insider

Recruitment of RNs will need to accelerate if providers are to meet the October care minutes deadline.

Recruitment of registered nurses will need to accelerate dramatically if aged care providers are to meet the 1 October care minutes deadline, an aged care executive tells Australian Ageing Agenda.

From Sunday, aged care homes will be required to hit a mandatory target of an average of 200 minutes of care per resident per day – 40 of those minutes must be provided by an RN.

But – as a new report from Bolton Clarke shows – providers will find recruiting sufficient numbers of RNs difficult given the strength of demand relative to supply.

“With this report, we’re trying to turn our attention to the fact that there are these underlying supply problems. We should be looking broadly at those supply constraints and how we can address them,” said the report’s author Tim Hicks – Bolton Clarke’s executive manager, policy and advocacy.

Mr Hicks told AAA the average number of RN minutes the sector is currently meeting is around 35 minutes – better than StewartBrown’s results for the financial year 2022 that showed average RN care minutes hitting 27 minutes.

Tim Hicks

“So we’re much, much closer to the target of 40 minutes than we thought we were last year,” he said. “We’re much higher than we thought we were, but it’s still going to be an even bigger jump for us to get where we need to be.”

Mr Hicks said, although the sector was happy to have ambitious targets – “and they are tremendously ambitious targets” – they would be challenging to meet.

“I don’t know where those extra nurses are going to come from. But we’re pushing hard, we’re having some success and I don’t want to be defeatist. We’ll get as close as we can. Hopefully we’ll get over the line. I can guarantee that not everyone will – but that’s okay … We shouldn’t think that as a failure. We have pushed hard and done as well as we could.”

Mr Hicks told AAA that the 15 per cent pay increase awarded to RNs by the Fair Work Commission has certainly helped the sector achieve the increase in care minutes.

“It’s been very helpful, but it is early days. We’ve only had a bit over two months where that pay rise has been in effect. But, anecdotally, it has been a significant help,” he said. “We’re very competitive with the health system now and that’s a good thing for us.”     

Meanwhile, data from the Nursing and Midwifery Board of Australia shows a large decline in the number of registered enrolled nurses in the sector. Whether there are fewer ENs because there are fewer jobs or fewer jobs because there are fewer ENs, Mr Hicks is unclear.

But, as he notes in the report, almost 30 per cent of ENs were aged 55-plus in 2022. Add to that a strong growth in EN job ads, and it suggests that retirement is the main driver of the EN shortfall.

When it comes to the recruitment of care workers, Mr Hicks’ analysis – drawn from various sources of workforce data – paints a brighter picture. The report shows employment of care workers has grown very strongly over the last few years, although that appears to have declined slightly mid-2022.   

However, that slight employment decline has been offset by an increase in average hours worked, meaning that the number of overall hours have remained relatively steady.

The report points to Reserve Bank of Australia forecasts that predict unemployment to rise to 4 per cent by the end of the year and to 4.5 per cent by the end of 2024. This is likely to mean an increase in workforce supply for non-clinical roles in aged care since many workers enter the sector from jobs in retail and hospitality.

Because the pool to draw care workers from is bigger, recruitment is not a concern – it’s the shortage of RNs that is the ongoing stressor for the sector, said Mr Hicks. “It’s all about supply, supply, supply. We’ve been focusing a lot on demand – and that’s good – but if we don’t focus on supply, then we can’t solve the problem.”

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Tags: bolton clarke, care minutes, featured, registered nurses, Tim Hicks, workforce,

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