As reported by the Sydney Morning Herald, Australia is set to experience a shortfall of around 25,000 aged care workers within the next two years, according to Internal Health Department documents that were published under freedom of information laws. The reports suggest that the Government’s election promise to implement two key recommendations of the Aged Care Royal Commission will require 14,626 new workers in 2023-24 and 25,093 the following year.
The reforms are expected to increase workforce utilisation and reduce staff exits, but the initiatives will only result in the creation of 6,100 new workers. This leaves thousands of vacant positions to be filled. The government’s aged care reforms will require aged care homes to have a registered nurse on site 24 hours a day from July, and mandate a minimum of 200 care minutes per resident each day from October to improve the ailing sector. However, chronic workforce shortages are expected to exacerbate the situation.
Coalition aged care spokeswoman Anne Ruston has stated that she wants to see older Australians receive the care they need and deserve. In the absence of being able to get access to registered nurses, and to meet the requirements of the government’s legislation, the government needs to answer what happens to these homes if they are unable to make those care minutes.
A Health Department spokesman has revealed that 5% of facilities, mainly in regional and remote areas, will be eligible for a 12-month exemption from the 24/7 requirement to give them more time to transition. This exemption has not been factored into the workforce figures. The department’s modelling has not yet been updated to reflect the impact of a 15% pay rise for aged care workers awarded last year by the Fair Work Commission will have on workforce numbers.
Both the government and stakeholders expect the pay rise to improve the situation by making the sector more appealing to both existing and new staff. The federal assistant secretary of the Australian Nursing and Midwifery Federation, Lori-Anne Sharp, has stated that there have been worker shortfalls for a long time and that the latest data demonstrates the problem. She added that while the government’s new measures would exacerbate worker shortages in the short term, they were vital in creating a cultural shift among aged care providers that would make workloads safer and ensure long-term sustainability.
Aged and Community Care Providers Association CEO Tom Symondson has also expressed concern about the workforce shortfalls. He said that the association was working with the government on solutions, including potential changes to visa rules to give more flexibility for visa holders to work in aged care. The association’s pre-budget submission also calls for aged care nurses to receive salaries that match their colleagues’ in public hospitals, to stop them from leaving the sector. The goal is to make aged care a sector of choice by improving training and development opportunities, skill levels, and pay.