Aug 30, 2022

Labor reaches 100 days in office, aged care sector says it’s a “positive start”

Labor reaches 100 days in office, aged care sector says it’s a

The new Federal Government has reached its first milestone, being in office for 100 days, and it has been a busy time for the aged care sector.

In an address to the National Press Club yesterday, Prime Minister Anthony Albanese reflected on the last 100 days.

He said there was still much to be done to fix workforce shortages in sectors like aged care, and the work the Government has done has largely been “focused on cleaning up the mess of the last decade”.

“There’s nothing more important than… caring for our family members when they are sick, or looking after our parents when they grow old. A healthy economy depends on healthy people.

“And whether it’s education or skills or health care or aged care, we can’t just stem the bleeding and hope for the best.”

HelloCare has reviewed the biggest changes that have been made by the Federal Government within its first 100 days, which have benefitted aged care workers and older people.

Aged Care Reform Bills – The Labor Government introduced two aged care reform bills into Parliament, with one of the bills already passed into law. 

The first bill to pass included a new funding model, establishment of an Independent Pricing Authority for aged care services, a new star rating provision for residential aged care, code of conduct legislation, and an extension of the Serious Incident Reporting Scheme (SIRS) into home care.

The other bill, which is being investigated by a Parliamentary Committee, aims to implement 24/7 nursing mandates and increased care minutes in aged care, put caps on home care administration fees, and add increased transparency measures for aged care providers. It is yet to be passed through Parliament.

Focus on increasing aged care workforce – The Federal Government has had a keen focus on increasing workforce numbers in the sector. Every industry has been dealing with workforce issues, but aged care has been seen as having a massive deficit in staff.

The Government extended an initiative that would see Pacific Islanders able to work within the Australian aged care sector. Additionally, the Government started to prioritise foreign worker visas for people who have skills that would be of benefit in the aged care sector.

The Australian Defence Force support in aged care was also extended to September and the surge workforce contracts were extended until the end of 2023.

Government throws support behind aged care wage raise – Following on from the pledge to support the aged care worker wage raise, the Labor Government threw support behind the ongoing Fair Work Commission work value case.

Labor stated it would fully fund the outcome of the aged care wage rise and even suggested that the pay rise would be “substantial”.

Re-established Pandemic Leave Disaster Payments – The Pandemic Leave Disaster Payments were set to finish on 1 July and not carry over, however, with a surge in COVID-19 cases and outbreaks in aged care, the Federal Government decided to reinstate the initiative.

This was particularly beneficial for aged care workers, who can take pandemic leave if they are infected and still receive income over their isolation period.

Industry says Labor has more work ahead

The aged care sector has been happy with recent big changes in the industry, however, there are some other areas industry experts would like to see worked on.

Paul Sadler, Interim Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of the Aged and Community Care Providers Association (ACCPA), said that the Albanese Government has made a “positive start” within its first 100 days in office.

He said the positive work was specifically around the aged care bill, which was based on recommendations from the Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety.

“We have already seen the passage of one piece of legislation in response to the Final Report [from the Royal Commission] allowing for the introduction of Australian National Aged Care Classification (AN-ACC) funding model and the establishment of the independent pricing authority,” said Mr Sadler.

“A second bill introducing, among other things, a requirement for Registered Nurses in aged care homes is before a Senate Committee.

Mr Sadler added that ACCPA has had positive engagement with the Government in the lead-up to the Jobs and Skills Summit, however, the organisation wished they had been given a seat at the table for this Summit later in the week.

ACCPA also expressed disappointment for the sector after the July announcement of “inadequate” indexation rates of 1.7% [for aged care funding], while aged care award wages rose by 4.6% against a backdrop of 7% inflation.

The Federal Budget in October is what ACCPA is looking forward to, said Mr Sadler, and they are wanting to see a workforce and sustainable funding model at the top of the agenda for the Albanese Government.

Otherwise, Mr Sadler said ACCPA was looking forward to working with the Government on longer-term solutions to fixing issues in the aged care workforce.

“Congratulations overall to the Albanese Government on its first 100 days. But much remains to be done,” said Mr Sadler.

The Older Persons Advocacy Network (OPAN) has also been impressed with the “speed” with which the Albanese Government acted to put new reforms in place for the aged care sector.

CEO of OPAN, Craig Gear, said that so far the Government’s actions suggested a strong commitment from the Prime Minister, the Minister for Health and Aged Care, Mark Butler, and the Minister for Aged Care, Anike Wells, to improve the lives of older people and those who support them.

“The extension of the Serious Incident Reporting Scheme into home care is an important step in reducing the abuse and neglect of older people and the new star rating system is a quick and hopefully credible way for older people, carers and family members to assess the quality of a service,” said Mr Gear.

Mr Gear said that OPAN was looking forward to finding out more information around the second reform bill, including the 24/7 nurse mandate exemptions and what that will look like.

“Exemptions are proposed in some circumstances – for example, in regional, rural and remote facilities where providers have been unable to recruit staff with the requisite skills,” explained Mr Gear.

“These need to be a last resort and time-limited, with alternate models of nursing care provided. All older people, regardless of the location of their residential aged care facility, deserve this level of care.”

OPAN also strongly endorsed the proposed ban on exit fees charged by home care providers and the caps on administration fees and management costs.

“This is one of the issues most frequently raised with OPAN advocates and a major cause of alarm for older people,” said Mr Gear.

“We would now like to see a mechanism developed to ensure aged care service providers do not try to recoup the costs in other ways.”

Additionally, OPAN wanted to see more movement around the Support at Home program, which had a timeline pushback due to concerns it wasn’t yet fit for purpose.

The organisation wants to work with the Government on interim arrangements for home care as well as the future design of the Support at Home program.

“We’ve got to get this right and not have anyone fall through the gaps in the meantime,” said Mr Gear.

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