The aged care industry has missed out on direct short-term support despite the Victorian Government delivering a $270 million boost to the state’s public health system.
On Sunday, Victorian Premier Dan Andrews announced that more than 10,000 students will receive a scholarship of up to $16,500, covering the costs of nursing or midwifery undergraduate degrees.
Scholarships are also available for specialist postgraduate studies, while an additional $20 million will go towards supporting graduates into the workforce.
Premier Andrews said the financial support means now is the perfect time to study nursing.
“If you’re in Year 12 and you’ve been thinking about studying nursing or midwifery – go for it. We’ve got your HECS [Higher Education Contribution Scheme] fees covered,” Premier Andrews said.
“Every health system in the country is under enormous pressure due to the pandemic.
“The best thing we can do to support our hardworking staff is give them more support on the ground – that’s why this package will train and hire more nurses than ever before.”
Students will receive $9,000 during their studies as part of the initiative and a further $7,500 if they work in Victorian public health services for two years.
Aged & Community Care Providers Association (ACCPA) Interim Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Paul Sadler said he welcomes the support to the nursing industry, but is worried that the aged care industry will not benefit.
“ACCPA welcomes moves to encourage more people to enter nursing training, however, it is difficult to see how this scheme would provide an immediate benefit for the aged care sector,” Mr Sadler explained.
“It appears to require successful study candidates to work for two years in the state public hospital system on graduation.
Mr Sadler added that regional and rural aged care services are struggling the most as they face enormous challenges to meet resident care requirements with limited staff.
“Aged care providers need a short-term solution to supplement the workforce so that they can support these reforms and ensure older Australians have access to the best quality care,” he said.
“We need to recruit more staff as quickly as possible and we need a practical and realistic plan to get there that avoids adding to the pressure staff and providers are currently under.
“ACCPA looks forward to working with the Federal Government on longer-term solutions to the workforce crisis which includes professionalising the workforce, improved training and recruitment including changes to skilled migration categories.”
Concerns have also been echoed by the Australian Private Hospitals Association (APHA) CEO, Michael Roff, who said the announcement by Premier Andrews is “poorly thought-out piece of electioneering”.
He said while there are benefits for public hospitals, it could lead to increased issues in aged care and private hospitals.
“This move could force the closure of services in the private sector and that is not good news for the State’s public hospital system,” Mr Roff said.
“If the private sector loses hospitals, the pressure on the public system only increases.
“The Victorian Premier’s plan will also undermine the Federal Government’s plan to attract more nurses into aged care. If they are training only to go into public hospitals, there are no nurses for the federally managed aged care sector.
Mr Roff hopes a national strategy can be created to better support nurses in all aged care and healthcare settings.
“We call on the Federal Health Minister Mark Butler to intervene to ensure we have a national program to address Australia’s skilled workforce issues,” he said.
“Taking a broad view of our healthcare system and its requirements is the best way to address workforce shortage, not States one upping each other with offers that may not result in any huge boost to the workforce.”
On Monday morning Prime Minister Anthony Albanese addressed the free nursing degree initiative.
Prime Minister Albanese highlighted the challenges all nurses have faced during the COVID-19 pandemic, making mention of exhaustion, “broken institutions and burnt-out staff.”
He said he supports Premier Andrews, while reinforcing Federal Government aged care initiatives, including wage increases.
“I did speak to Premier Andrews this morning and it’s a good initiative that he’s undertaking but we have our own initiatives as well – fee-free TAFE, the additional university places aimed at areas of skills shortage,” Prime Minister Albanese said
“The different levels of government have to pull the levers that are available to them and we are certainly pulling those levers across the health workforce including the commitments we have made to support increases of wages for people in aged care.”