Federal budget falls short of promised aged care reform

The federal government will invest $17.7 billion over five years into the aged care sector and mandate the minimum time staff must spend with residents, last night’s 2021 budget revealed.

The government’s much-anticipated response to the Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety also includes commitments to fund an additional 80,000 new home care packages, over 33,000 new training places for carers, and providing retention bonuses to keep more nurses working in the sector.

“We are committed to restoring trust in the system and allowing Australians to age with dignity and respect,” Treasurer Josh Frydenberg declared when announcing the “once in a generation” aged care reform.

The Royal Commission found Australia’s aged care system is understaffed, and the workforce underpaid and undertrained. One of its key recommendations sought to address chronic understaffing in nursing homes to enable the provision of high quality and safe care.

Under the federal government’s package, from 2023 staff will be required to spend at least 200 minutes a day with each aged care resident.

The Australia Nursing and Midwifery Federation (ANMF), however, says the budget’s investment in aged care falls well short of the reforms promised by the Morrison government and does not go anywhere near enough to ensuring safe, quality care is provided to vulnerable nursing home residents.

While the ANMF says the government’s commitment to introducing regulated care hours for residents shows it finally understands staffing is at the heart of best practice care, it believes they should have gone further and mandated minimum staffing levels immediately, including a registered nurse on site 24/7, as recommended by the Commission.

“We question which generation will actually see the benefits of any action the government is taking to fix aged care,” ANMF Federal Secretary Annie Butler said from Parliament House in Canberra.

“This Budget falls well short of what residents, their families and the community wanted to fix this broken system.”

Ms Butler said at least three hours and 20 minutes per day of care for each resident was a positive step, yet queried why it needed to take until 2023 to be implemented.

Critically, she says the budget does not include any requirement for an RN to be on site at aged care facilities at all times.

“The government appears to have also ignored the second phase of care minutes recommended by the Royal Commission. We need a plan. Why have a Royal Commission and then ignore so many of its recommendations?” Ms Butler said.

“Without mandated minimum staffing levels and skills mix guaranteed to meet the care needs of residents, elderly Australians and their families will continue to suffer.”

Elsewhere, the ANMF welcomed the introduction of aged care providers being forced to publicly disclose their care minutes for residents, as well as the drafting of a new Aged Care Act.

Yet, it says the “apparent lack of transparency and accountability for the use of billions of taxpayer dollars allocated to aged care providers” in the budget reflects an ongoing failure by the government and, ultimately, means providers can continue to put profits before care.

Speaking at a press conference at Parliament House this morning, alongside a delegation of aged care workers from the ANMF and United Workers Union, UWU aged care director Carolyn Smith said the government had failed to deliver sufficient investment in addressing longstanding workforce issues such as the need for improved wages, safe workloads and career pathways.

“The government is trumpeting how much money they’re putting into this budget for aged care but, essentially, if you don’t support a quality workforce in aged care, if you don’t raise wages, if you don’t ensure there are decent jobs in aged care, you cannot fix aged care,” Ms Smith said.

“We see $3.2 billion handed to aged care providers with no strings attached. Some of those providers will do the right thing and improve care for older Australians. We think some providers will send that money directly to profit and we are shocked that money was handed over with absolutely no transparency and no strings attached.”

Ms Smith said the government’s commitment to minimum care hours was too little too late.

“There is a crisis going on in residential aged care right now. Older Australians are not getting the care. Aged care workers are going home every night in tears because they have to make terrible decisions about, do I answer three bells that are going off, do I talk to the older woman who’s asking me to talk to them, someone’s fallen on the floor, who do I go to first. We need a staffing model now. We cannot wait two years for that.”

Aged care worker Jen said the budget did nothing to show aged care workers that they are valued.

“We’re all screaming for a wage increase. The retention in our workers is just constant because they don’t get enough to have a living wage and, of course, that’s going to affect the quality of care we give our residents. We need it fixed.”

The Consumers Health Forum said the budget had delivered a “modest but welcome” response to the Royal Commission’s recommendations.

“This is a down payment on the additional resourcing desperately required in terms of staffing and services,” CHF CEO Leanne Wells said.

Australia’s peak dementia body, Dementia Australia, said the government’s $229 million investment would help transform dementia care for people living with the disease.

Key measures in the budget related to dementia include enhanced early support for people living with dementia in the community by expanding the National Dementia Support Program; extra outreach capability for the National Dementia Helpline; dementia training throughout the sector; and the introduction of a nationally consistent worker screening register and code-of-conduct for all sector workers.

Dementia Australia CEO Maree McCabe said the funding would provide the impetus for the systemic change required in the aged care sector.

“Elevating the capability of the workforce is a focus of this budget. Dementia must be core business for aged care,” Ms McCabe said.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Want more? Read the latest issue of ANMJ



Advertise with ANMJ

The ANMJ provides a range of advertising opportunities within our printed monthly journal and via our digital platforms.