Troubled outlook for aged care reforms


Friday, 01 December, 2023

Troubled outlook for aged care reforms

Research from Ideagen has revealed a significant level of doubt among aged care providers when it comes to implementation of the federal government’s aged care reforms.

The software company, which specialises in helping organisations manage their legal and regulatory obligations, found that almost one in five aged care providers say it is “impossible” to meet the government’s ambitious round-the-clock nursing requirement.

This requirement, which came into effect on 1 July 2023, mandates that all residential aged care providers must have a registered nurse (RN) on duty and onsite 24/7. Additionally, from 1 October 2023 providers have also been required to provide 200 care minutes per resident per day, including 40 minutes with an RN.1

Ideagen’s research, contained in its fourth annual Ideagen Aged Care Workforce Report, found that 71% of aged care providers are struggling to recruit and retain enough registered nurses, who are often paid less than their colleagues in public hospitals. Furthermore, almost half (40%) believe providing 200 care minutes a day to each resident will be “difficult to achieve” and 21% said it was “impossible to achieve”. Less than 10% believed the care minute requirements were “easy to achieve”.

“Registered nurses are one of the most in-demand professions in the country, yet the aged care system we are moving towards doesn’t seem to acknowledge they can find better-paid work elsewhere in public hospitals,” said Ideagen (formerly Complispace) Senior Vice President David Griffiths.

“The Royal Commission into Aged Care found that older Australians needed better care from better qualified staff. However, the reality in implementing a new system without the corresponding investment is it is doomed to fail,” he cautioned.

Earlier this year, Aged Care Minister Anika Wells conceded the government would fail to meet its policy commitments. She noted that 80% of facilities were meeting the 24/7 nursing requirement and 9% were steadily working towards it, but 5% in rural or remote areas would never be able to meet it.2

To help retain aged care workers in the sector, the Fair Work Commission increased wages of direct care and some senior food services employees in the aged care sector by up to 15%3 from 1 July 2023, costing the Australian Government an extra $11.3 billion.

However, Ideagen said the scale of the structural problems may be beyond the government’s capacity to fix. Its report found that 53.8% of aged care providers say it is either “difficult to achieve” or “moderately challenging” to have a 24/7 RN onsite and on duty at their facility. A further 12% said it was “impossible to achieve”.

The most positive reaction came from the ACT, where 41% of respondents believed having an RN on duty at all times is “easy to achieve”.

Registered nurses are the third most sought-after skill in Australia with 10,211 current vacant nursing roles, up from 3081 in June 2020, according to Jobs and Skills.4 The government’s 2023 Skills Priority List report noted in both 2022 and 2023 there was a shortage of aged care registered nurses. It also pointed to aged and disabled carers having been in shortage since 2021, adding that low staff retention in the care sector could be a result of poor working conditions.

Ideagen’s research found that South Australia had the largest aged care staff turnover, with 29.63% saying either their entire management had been replaced or over half the management team had left. South Australians were also the most likely to leave the aged care industry in less than one year (27.16%). Tasmanians were most likely to leave the industry within one to three years at 36.36%; they were also the group calling the most for more staff, at 90.9%.

Nationally, 30% of workers said they could see themselves leaving the industry within one to three years. Stress was the largest factor that caused workers to leave the industry at 81%, followed by excessive overtime/expectations (73%), too much paperwork (68%) and remuneration (49%). This was similar to last year where stress and poor pay were the top two reasons as to why workers left the industry.

The full Ideagen Aged Care Workforce Report can be downloaded from Ideagen’s website.

1. https://www.agedcarequality.gov.au/reforms/247-registered-nurse-cover-and-care-minutes
2. https://www.abc.net.au/news/2023-03-20/aged-care-nursing-staff-deadline-will-not-be-met/102119504
3. https://www.fairwork.gov.au/newsroom/news/15-per-cent-wage-increase-aged-care-sector
4. https://www.jobsandskills.gov.au/jobs-and-skills-atlas-dashboard?nav=state&tab=state-occupations&region=aus

Image credit: iStock.com/PeopleImages

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