The budget includes almost $18 billion ($17.7 billion) for the aged care sector over five years to generate what Prime Minister Scott Morrison calls “generational change”, and the Aged Care Act will be rewritten by 2023.
But for aged care workers delivering care to older Australians at their bedside, what will the change look like?
To many, the government’s billions of dollars are far removed from the reality of their workplaces, and many of those who work in the sector are sceptical the reforms and spending will make any difference at all.
We asked members of HelloCare’s Aged Care Worker Support Group for their thoughts on the budget, and the overwhelming response was that it does little to tackle the main problems they experience daily at work, namely low pay and staff shortages.
Another said, “Throwing money at aged care will not fix the problem … and it’s money that the government withdrew from the sector in previous years.”
It has been estimated the government needed to spend $10 billion per annum to fix the problems in aged care. Instead they are spending $3.5 billion. This budget might get us halfway there, but will it put an end to the horrifying stories of neglect and mistreatment we continue to hear about in the sector?
Here are some of the problems related to aged care that HelloCare readers identified with the budget, and their thoughts on how they might affect them on the frontline as they provide care for older Australians.
Problem #1: Mandated minimum care hours unworkable
From 2023, the government will mandate 200 minutes of care per day for aged care residents, with 40 minutes to be delivered by a registered nurse. The royal commission’s recommendation to increase those levels down the track was not taken up in this budget.
Many HelloCare readers wrote that the implementation of this recommendation is too slow, and many residents won’t live to see the benefits.
Others said the mandated times are impossible.
“There is no way that an RN can spend 40 minutes with each resident,” one RN wrote.
“Then you have to factor in medication rounds (0700, 0800, 1200, 1400, 1600, 1700, 2000 & 2100) wounds, doctor rounds, family, documentation, care plans, emergencies, managing AINs and, if you’re lucky, a half hour lunch break.”
Problem #2: No staff ratios
Despite the new mandated minimum hours of care, the budget does not include staff-to-resident ratios, which could have helped to ensure there are more staff on the ground to deliver those mandated care times.
“I can only hope with these new minimum times they have set they will make it law to have enough staff on to actually make sure this time is given, and not expect already overworked staff to stretch themselves further,” one concerned member of the support group wrote.
Problem #3: No pay increase
It is widely acknowledged that so long as aged care staff continue to be poorly paid, it will always be difficult to retain and attract workers. Yet, the budget does not address this fundamental issue, and HelloCare readers were quick to pick up on it.
“Everyone who puts their all into the health and wellbeing of the residents deserves the pay and recognition of how hard aged care is. Being a caring person and caring for people doesn’t mean we should be entitled to less.
“It’s not an act of goodwill, it’s our job, and it’s what also feeds our families and pays our bills.
“The government is clueless about the tireless work we do for the residents,” they said.
Problem #4: Support payments go to RNs only
Many HelloCare readers also expressed their disappointment that the $2,700 aged care worker retention bonus will only be paid to registered nurses.
The 70% of the workforce who are personal care workers will not be eligible. It’s no surprise they were disappointed and felt unappreciated.
Problem #5: No fixes for toxic culture
Members of HelloCare’s support group often write of a culture of bullying in aged care. Both the royal commission and the Aged Care Industry Workforce touched on the issue of “poor workplace culture” in aged care, but this issue has been overlooked in the budget, and some aged care workers are not happy about it.
Problem #6: No transparency in government spending
Many commented on the absence of measures in the budget to ensure that government spending is “transparent”, and that precious taxpayer dollars are used for their intended purpose.
For most of us reading about the budget, the government’s rivers of cash seem distant and removed, and it appears that many HelloCare readers don’t really expect, despite the almost $18 billion funding, there to be much change.
All most aged care workers really want is better pay, more staff, less pressure and a kind and supportive work culture to make it easier for them to deliver high-quality care for older Australians. Disappointingly, there are no guarantees the budget will deliver on these fronts.
But one thing is for sure, aged care workers will be watching closely as the reforms are rolled out.
As one wrote on our pages, “I will be interested to see what is actually implemented with this money.”
What are your thoughts on the promises the government has stated in this year’s federal budget for the aged care sector? Share your thoughts with us below.