Mar 10, 2022

How aged care policies could decide the next federal election

Aged care policies election

For years now the media, including HelloCare, has contained too many reports of harrowing conditions “behind closed doors” in many of the nation’s aged care homes, and though there have been considerable distractions in recent years – bushfires, the pandemic, floods and war – Australians have not forgotten.

Australians want a safe and high quality aged care system. Both sides of government would be making a grave miscalculation to neglect aged care in the upcoming election.

A recent survey for the Health Services Union (HSU) by JWS Research found almost half of voters (46%) would be more likely to vote for a party or candidate who supports increased federal government funding for aged care

The survey also found a strong majority (62%) believe federal aged care funding should be increased, and 71% support the 25% pay rise before the Fair Work Commission (FWC) relating to the work value of aged care workers.

Ms Hutchins told HelloCare that Labor also needs to be clear about its commitment to aged care or risk losing the support of independents and minor parties that do.

The HSU survey results are in line with a survey of more than 1,500 voters in Victoria and New South Wales by independent polling group RedBridge Group. That poll found 50% will be influenced by the state of the aged care system when they go to the ballot box in May. 

More than two-thirds (68.5%) said they would like all sides of politics to give aged care a strong focus in the campaign.

Nearly 70% said the government has not received enough federal government support and more than half (53.7%) said they did not consider aged care services to be safe.

Danielle Ballantine, CEO Your Side Australia, told HelloCare, “Aged care should always be a central issue. Every single one of us will require support if we are lucky enough to age. 

“We need bipartisan commitment to supporting a system that works for all of us.”

Australian Nursing & Midwifery Foundation (ANMF) Federal Secretary, Annie Butler, told HelloCare, “If we, as a nation, have any chance of ending the suffering and neglect experienced by so many elderly Australians living in nursing homes, then our political leaders must ensure that the reform of the troubled aged care sector is their number one priority.”

She added, “A strong, valued aged care workforce that is supported to work safely and effectively to deliver high-quality, dignified care to all residents and clients,” should be the government’s number one priority.

The ANMF is calling on the government to fund and legislate the requirement for 24-hour registered nurse presence on site in every nursing home at all times, fund and legislate minimum staffing ratios, implement minimum mandated care minutes and the right skills mix, legislate clear transparency measures that require funding to be tied to care, and improve [worker] conditions and fund increased wages.

Ms Butler said ANMF members have described “heartbreaking” accounts of the failings of the aged care system. They have experienced “disappointment” that “nothing” has changed in the wake of the royal commission, and the aftermath of the government’s decision to “open up” and “live with COVID” has caused “devastation” in the sector and been “demoralising” for the workforce. 

Leading Aged Services Australia (LASA) CEO, Sean Rooney, told HelloCare, “Care and support for older Australians deserves to be a key issue in this election campaign.”

Australians are consistently placing aged care in their “top issues of concern”, Mr Rooney said.

The government’s lack of progress implementing the recommendations of the royal commission could be perceived as a weakness for the government, he continued.

 “The pandemic has served to magnify the structural deficiencies in the system identified by the royal commission,” Mr Rooney added.  

Aged care workers and aged care services have had to “struggle” simply to maintain daily essential services for residents and home care clients over the summer.

As part of the Australian Aged Care Collaboration (AACC), LASA is calling on the government to fund a ‘Workforce Partnership Supplement’ for providers to spend “immediately” on increasing wages, training, minutes of care, 24-hour nursing, COVID-19 prevention and workforce retention costs.

LASA is also calling on the government to put in place an allied health needs assessment and funding model by July 2024, and to lay out a detailed plan for reform following on from the $17.7 billion package of funding announced in last year’s budget. 

As part of the AACC, ACSA is also calling on the government to immediately increase subsidies to cover the increased costs of infection prevention and protection.

ACSA would also like to see the establishment of the proposed National Aged Care Covid Coordination Centre (NAT-ACCC) to ensure aged care services are adequately resourced, enabled and supported to deal with future waves of the virus.

Ian Yates, Chief Executive of Council on the Ageing, told HelloCare he would like to see whichever party wins the next election to continue to respond to the royal commission’s recommendations and take “more action” on workforce.

He would also like to see a commitment from Labor that they will continue the “scope and timetable of the reform process the government is committed to” extending out to the end of next year.

Aged care wages

There is a general consensus from unions, providers and consumer groups that aged care wages should increase.

Ms Hutchins said it was “inexplicable” the Liberal government has not backed the unions’ work value case.

“The work of the aged care workforce has become more complex as the needs of an ageing population and community expectations of care have evolved. 

“Older Australians are entering residential aged care with increasingly complex physical, social and emotional needs, in part driven by the increasing rates of dementia. 

Mr Yates said he would like to see a commitment from the government and Labor that they will support the FWC’s decision on aged care wages.

LASA and ACSA, as members of the AACC, support the minimum wage increase bid before the FWC, and are calling for it to be fully funded by the government.

Mr Sadler said critical staff and skills shortages also need to be addressed.

“We cannot provide high-quality aged care support for all Australians without the skills and dedication of the aged care workforce. These essential workers deserve respect and they deserve better support to encourage successful, long-term careers in the aged care sector.

“Existing, long-term aged care worker shortages have been exacerbated during the COVID pandemic and recent instability.”

Funding the system

There has been little discussion about funding of a reformed aged care system, but Ms Hutchins said the HSU’s work with Equity Economics found a 0.65% increase in the Medicare Levy could deliver an additional $20 billion over four years, the estimated cost of providing “high quality, decent” care to older Australians in residential aged care, according to their research.

Ms Ballantine would like to see a shift in the perception of spending on aged care as welfare to thinking about the “very real” return on the investment. 

Consultation

Mr Yates said consumer groups are being more involved in the reform process than they have been in the past – a positive he would like to see continue after the election. 

Consumer organisations, such as COTA and the Council of the Elders, have a stronger voice and, in the case of the Council of the Elders, direct access to the aged care ministers. 

Historically, providers were the most dominant voices in reform discussions – consumers only got a “small look in,” Mr Yates said.

Perhaps unsurprisingly then, Mr Rooney indicated that LASA is not being consulted on all aspects of reform. He noted “concern” about a lack of “willingness on the part of the government to consult on design of key elements of a reformed aged care system”.

Mr Yates said it was important to remain focused on the aged care outcome, even during an election campaign and possible change of government. 

“We have to keep our eyes … fixed on what is the age care system we want, and how do we get there.”

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  1. As an aged care provider of forty years I too am frightfully disappointed that nothing has eventuated from the liberals since the royal commission. I can’t say I’m surprised because thirty previous independent enquiries have said it all before and the federal government has ignored the lot.

    I’d like to say that aged care staff are immensely respected and appreciated but a pay increase might encourage some Australians to apply for the jobs.

  2. I would also like highlighted the de valuation of Enrolled Nurses, they are registered with AHPRA and pay the same registration fees as RNs, yet they will not be considered as part of the initial 40mins per day spent with Elders under the new funding model come 2023. We have a RN / EN model of care which allows optimum care delivery. I agree we need more RN hours in aged care but we should not dismiss the valuable contribution ENs make caring for our Elders. All Ens have worked hard to gain their Diplomas they need appreciation not de valuation.
    A re think is needed to recognise ENs as part of the registered nurse pool, I am not saying they replace RNs but should be considered as part of the nurse elder ratio.

    1. I agree completely. RNs are indeed very important. ENs are specially trained to do the observations and reporting, that carers, who are important and indispensable, sometimes do not always have the time to do. I believe, perhaps because I practiced as an EN for well over 20 years, ENs are equally important in aged care as RNs.

  3. We have no choice.

    The Government has failed to respond to the recommendations of the Aged Care Royal Commission and therefore have to be removed, sooner than later.

    Before the election is the opportunity for the alternative party to reveal their comprehensive plans to commit and remedy this disgraceful situation.

    HelloCare could approach the Opposition Leader requesting details of their commitment.

  4. The Royal Commission confirmed the Government had failed Aged Care in this country. The current Government continues to fail.

    Our only hope for change is therefore a change of Government.

  5. The Government has failed.

    The Opposition have the opportunity to reveal details of their plans to rectify this disgraceful situation. It would be great to read the Opposition’s intentions in HelloCare.

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