Aged care provider groups are calling on all sides of politics to commit to a workforce supplement, a minimum wage increase and funding for allied health.

The Australian Aged Care Collaboration says the royal commission’s final report set the standard of reform required to address long-term systemic issues – including with the workforce – but a year on from its release urgent responses are still required.

The collaboration of six provider peak bodies is targeting the “workforce crisis” through short-and long-term funding measures within a national aged care workforce partnership.

“To solve the crisis in aged care, we need to work together,” read an AACC statement. “Aged care providers, unions, health professionals and government – we need to work with older people, their family, their carers to fulfil every older Australian’s right to high quality care.”

The AACC is calling for:

  • a “workforce partnership supplement” for providers to spend on increasing wages, training, minutes of care, 24-hour nursing and COVID-19 prevention and workforce retention costs
  • a minimum wage increase for aged care workersby funding the Fair Work Commission work value case, and award wage increases from July 2022
  • a commitment to a multidisciplinary workforceby putting an allied health needs assessment and funding model in place by July 2024.
Paul Sadler

“We need something urgent,” AACC spokesperson Paul Sadler told Australian Ageing Agenda. “Waiting for the Fair Work Commission case, which is important, is still going to be the longer-term fix,” said Mr Sadler, chief executive officer of Aged & Community Services Australia.

Mr Sadler said the workforce supplement, which aims to solve issues caused by the pandemic, would enable providers to immediately increase wages to support the additional care older people need in their own home or residential care and retain staff who are leaving for other sectors.

With the minimum wage increase, the AACC is calling for all parties to commit to funding the outcomes of the FWC case, as recommended by the royal commission.

“The royal commission said unequivocally to the government, you should join in the case before the Fair Work Commission. Not put in a submission, which is what Labor has said. Not do nothing, which is what the government’s done,” Mr Sadler said. “This is a crisis in aged care. We’ve been calling it a workforce crisis since October, November last year; before Omicron. It’s got to be dealt with.”

The third measure – a commitment to a multidisciplinary workforce – is also a response to the royal commission recommendations for new ways of funding allied health. However, the allied health workforce is not targeted in the incoming funding mechanism nor is it included in the minimum staffing requirements, Mr Sadler said. “We do need something that clearly funds allied health for the future as well.”

Government’s response to the royal commission

To coincide with today’s report anniversary, Minister for Health and Aged Care Greg Hunt and Minister for Aged Care Services Richard Colbeck issued a press release to reiterate the government’s five-year plan and its $18 billion commitment to fund reform.

Greg Hunt

Mr Hunt named the establishment of the National Aged Care Advisory Group and Council of Elders among the actions already taken in response to the commission’s 148 recommendations.

“The continued implementation of the reforms are now guided by these two important groups of representatives to ensure each measure that is introduced continues to meet the needs and expectations of senior Australians, families, carers and the wider community,” Mr Hunt said.

He also listed initiatives in place, including the $10 boost to the residential daily fee, local care finders, 33,000 extra training places, the Aged Care Transition to Practice Program and the payment for aged care registered nurses. Mr Hunt also spruiked next stage measures underway including:

  • the draft legislation of a new Aged Care Act
  • quality of life indicators
  • the new support-at-home program
  • dementia-friendly accommodation design
  • dementia education and training.

There was still no mention of wages.

On the pace of reforms, Mr Sadler said you would expect things to be further along if there hadn’t been a pandemic. “We need to be realistic in what we say about the capacity of either the government or the rest of the sector to drive the reform agenda in the light of what’s happened, particularly the Omicron wave.”

However, some key elements have taken longer than proposed, such as the appointment of the National Aged Care Advisory Council coming six months after it was originally slated, he said.

“That has impacted because the government was wanting that to be established before they did certain things including releasing information about an overall plan for the reform agenda,” Mr Sadler said. “Now, we still haven’t seen the overall plan for the reform agenda, and the government acknowledges that’s not come out. But that is now nearly nine months overdue,” he said. “There [are many] different projects that need to fit into a wider plan and it’s vital now that the government tells us what that plan is and engages properly with the sector around it.”

No response to date on long-term financing

In addition to workforce, the other big omission from the government’s response to the royal commission’s final report is a mechanism for financing aged care into the future. While suggesting different models, both royal commissioners recommended the government look at some sort of aged care levy.

“The government just rejected that out of hand and they have not put any viable long-term funding options on the table for the aged care system,” Mr Sadler said. What remains is the reliance on general taxation and a user-pay system that the royal commission found to be out of date and inequitable, he said.

“On the anniversary of the royal commission report, we are clearly saying to all political parties, both of these issues need to be resolved.”

The aged care system needs additional investments, such as for wages but also other areas not fully resolved by the government’s response, he said.

“How are we going to pay for them all? You can’t just keep ignoring those issues. Because if you do, you will continue to underfund the aged care sector and end up with the problems that the royal commission highlighted. And Omicron absolutely horribly uncovered that the resilience in the aged care system just simply isn’t there.”

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