Concerns Over Future Aged Care Workforce
26 June 2017 at 8:34 am
Australia does not have a plan to grow the aged care workforce to meet demand as the population ages, according to the Senate.
A Senate Committee report, tabled on Wednesday, found there was “a clear need” for a workforce strategy in light of the “significant growth and change” the sector was facing due to a growth in the ageing population.
The report, which made a number of recommendations about what a strategy would need to address, investigated the issues facing the aged care sector in developing its workforce in the face of an ageing population, particularly in regional and remote areas.
According to Australian Greens Senator and Community Affairs References Committee chair Rachel Siewert, the inquiry was initiated in response to complaints that the sector was struggling to retain staff, “let alone meet the needs of staff required for our ageing population”.
“There are a myriad of issues that need to be addressed, obviously the ageing population is an issue in itself but also the increasing diversity in that population, more complex health needs, technological change, workforce and workplace regulation and impacts of other sectors such as the NDIS,” Siewert said.
“It is very obvious that low wages and lack of career paths is a major disincentive to recruiting staff, there are also very significant issues around training for the aged care sector with significant improvements made.”
According to the report the aged care workforce will need to grow by 2 per cent per year to accommodate demand for services, yet there is no clear plan in place as to how this will be achieved.
The report highlighted four key themes that arose during the inquiry: the need for an integrated sector-wide workforce development strategy; the need for improved training; the need for further workforce and workplace regulation; and the particular challenges facing the aged care workforce in remote communities.
Siewert said she was pleased the government had announced funding to support the establishment of an industry-led taskforce to develop a national aged care workforce strategy.
She highlighted a number of issues that needed to be addressed.
“A lack of diverse staff means that there is a lack of cultural sensitivity and LGBTI elderly Australians may not feel completely at ease or comfortable in their aged care facility. In their final years, all older Australians deserve to be comfortable and happy regardless of where they live,” she said.
“The committee also emphasised the need for the government to examine the introduction of a minimum nursing requirement, recognising that older Australians entering residential aged care now have more complex and greater needs, and that this trajectory will continue. This must occur in close consultation with stakeholders and experts in this space.
“There are specific issues in providing aged care for Aboriginal and Torres Strait islander peoples in remote communities with changes needed to address these, including funding, infrastructure and workforce. It is also obvious that Consumer Directed Care is problematic in remote communities and the approach needs to be reviewed.”
The committee also raised concerns about a lack of structure in place to encourage nurses and aged care staff out to the regions.
“The committee has recommended that government work with the aged care industry to develop scholarships that encourage staff out to remote regions, whilst developing a specific strategy to support regional and remote aged care workers,” Siewert said.
Aged Care Minister Ken Wyatt welcomed the report and said support was crucial for the sector.
“This detailed inquiry highlights the variety of challenges and opportunities in metropolitan and regional aged care and will form part of consideration of this important community issue,” Wyatt said.
“The report is timely, and will help feed into the Turnbull government’s Strengthening Aged Care workforce strategy, for which $2 million was announced in the May budget to establish and support an industry lead workforce strategy.
“The taskforce will be required to consult widely within the health and aged care sector, and engage with other sectors, including social services, education and employment.
“Planning for this is well underway, with the taskforce expected to be established in July 2017.”
Wyatt said it was an important time for aged care planning, with the Aged Care Legislated Review, due on 1 August 2017, also set to help guide ongoing system reform.
“Planning and caring for our ageing population is critical for our future, not only for the wellbeing of older people but also for the job perspectives and career opportunities for young Australians,” he said.