The Federal Government has conceded it’s failed to meet the ambitious July 1 deadline for having a Registered Nurse rostered 24/7 at all aged care homes, breaking one of its key election promises.
Speaking to ABC’s Afternoon Briefing on Monday, Aged Care Minister Anika Wells confirmed that close to one in 20 facilities will not have the necessary Registered Nurse (RN) quota by July, including many rural operators.
“We’ve got 80% of facilities now who are meeting 24/7 nursing requirements, and another 9% who are nearly there or very steadily working towards making it,” Minister Wells said.
“We also acknowledge there’s probably about 5% of facilities, particularly in our rural and remote areas, who will not be able to get there.”
Minister Wells said the Government is working with all homes that are struggling to recruit RNs to ensure they receive the one-off 12-month exemption, which she expects to be 5% of all facilities.
But despite the efforts to help, it means Labor has not been able to meet Prime Minister Anthony Albanese’s promise of 24/7 RNs in aged care within a year of being elected.
Warning signs of failure have been present since day one, and as July creeps closer, the threat of rural and regional aged care homes closing has grown.
The opposition party has been quick to attack as the Shadow Aged Care Minister, Anne Ruston, said the Government’s rigid timeline has damaged the sector for both workers and older people.
“Today’s admission from the Minister finally acknowledges the concerns that the Coalition and the sector have been warning about for months,” Ms Ruston said.
“This broken promise has created serious distress and uncertainty for aged care providers and the older Australians that they care for.
“In their rush to tick and flick election commitments, the Albanese Labor Government failed to consider the challenging circumstances faced by the sector due to serious workforce shortages.”
Many providers have said the mandate is not viable due to financial constraints and workforce shortages, with high demand for a limited number of RNs pitting many providers against one another when recruiting.
As a result, providers that do not have a 24/7 RN in place will not be eligible for a related Government-funded supplement payment.
“If you don’t meet it come 1 July you’re going to need to explain yourself, why you haven’t been able to meet it, and if you’ve taken all reasonable measures to do so we’ll continue to work with you to get there,” Minister Wells told Sky News.
“If you’re unable to meet the 24/7 [requirement] come 1 July, the doors are open from 1 April for people to come to us and say we’re worried about not being able to comply.”
According to the Department of Health and Aged Care, the sector is approximately 12,000 RNs short of where it needs to be – although Minister Wells has said the gap has shrunk to 8,400 RNs.
Minister Wells said it will take time to succeed in attracting workers and the Government is doing all it can to achieve its 24/7 nursing goal and October 200 daily care minute target, including fully funding the 15% aged care pay rise from July.
“The workforce shortages we are not going to be able to stop overnight, [but] we are pulling every lever,” Minister Wells said.
“We are working with the [Aged Care Quality and Safety] Commission and with facilities… to make sure that they have arrangements in place.”
Aged & Community Care Providers Association (ACCPA) Chief Executive Officer (CEO), Tom Symondson, told ABC the Government’s concession is a case of “recognising reality”.
He said the minority of providers struggling to bring in RNs just need more time to meet the Government’s mandate.
“I don’t think the timeframe is the critical thing here, I think it’s how we respond to those providers – who through no fault of their own – cannot meet this target,” Mr Symondson said.
“What we’ve got to acknowledge is this was a target essentially set by the Royal Commission two years ago at a time when we had no idea we’d still be in this situation now where COVID-19 was still causing an impact on our sector, but also we have an unprecedented workforce shortage.
“We’re fighting incredibly strong headwinds and just need to be realistic about what can be achieved.”