Federal Minister for Aged Care, Anika Wells, has sent a warning to the aged care system that change must occur now to prepare for the influx of baby boomers, which could see resident numbers increase by 75% before 2040.
Speaking at the Economic and Social Outlook Conference on Wednesday afternoon in Melbourne, Minister Wells said the Government “inherited a mess after almost a decade of inaction” by the former Government.
Minister Wells was optimistic, though, highlighting that the Government has already responded to 37 Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety recommendations in just five months.
“We are working hard to make aged care better for those receiving care and those giving care,” Minister Wells said.
“However, unless we seek innovative models of care, unless we embrace creativity, technology and international best practice… we will not be prepared for the greatest impact on aged care this century.
“The baby boomer period spans 20 years, this is not a rogue wave. It will be a rising tide that swells for a decade or more before it peaks.”
Minister Wells added that it will not be possible to “sandbag against this tide” and everyone must build up the aged care system to support the growing demand.
Australia’s over 65 population is set to grow by more than 50% over the next 20 years as the baby boomers, the generation born between 1946-1964, continue to age.
The ARC Centre of Excellence in Population and Ageing has estimated that there will be 6.66 million people aged over 65 by 2041, including 1.28 million aged over 85. That’s an increase of 140% for the over 85 population.
While Minister Wells acknowledged many baby boomers want to live independently at home, the first cohort will turn 80 in less than four years.
Residential aged care will be the next step and that could see the number of people in aged care grow from 200,000 to 350,000 over the next two decades.
With two out of three nursing homes already running at a loss, the influx could overwhelm many facilities that are already struggling to cope with low staff numbers and resources.
“At a certain point, some will have [to] look to residential aged care – and they will expect a level of care they have worked hard over a lifetime to secure. A level of care they have earned,” Minister Wells said.
“Now, I am not saying baby boomers will unravel the aged care system.
“What I am saying is, they expect us to do the work today that will see older Australians front and centre of the aged care system.
“This should be the expectation.”
Although no new announcements were made regarding aged care one week on from the Government’s October Federal Budget release, Minister Wells looked to reinforce their $3.9 billion commitment to aged care, stating it will help facilitate a “new era of aged care”.
“We came into Government with a plan to restore quality, dignity and respect to aged care,” Minister Wells explained.
“Just last week we cemented 24/7 nursing in residential aged care homes into law, and earlier in the year we legislated the AN-ACC [Australian National Aged Care Classification], which will allow us to mandate an average of 215 minutes of care per day for residents from October 2024.
“We have also committed to funding the outcome of the Fair Work Commission’s decision and made a submission to support a wage rise for our dedicated aged care workforce.
“Analysis by the National Skills Commission suggests even a 10 per cent permanent wage increase would halve the workforce gap for the total care and support sector by 2050.
“We must and we will do more.”
Minister Wells also recognised the need for new aged care architecture to diversify the support provided to baby boomers, highlighting innovational models of care such as the Korongee Dementia Village in Tasmania and the Continuum of Care Model adopted by New Zealand aged care service provider, Ryman Healthcare.