‘Older Australians deserve better’: Open letter to PM from aged care unions and providers

Aged care unions and providers have issued an open letter to Prime Minister Scott Morrison calling for action to fix the aged care crisis, including immediately lifting staff wages and addressing staff and skills shortages.

Unions, including the Australian Nursing and Midwifery Federation (ANMF), ACTU, Health Services Union (HSU), United Workers Union (UWU), Australian Workers Union (AWU), together with aged care peaks, write that the at the start of the pandemic, the Morrison Government agreed protecting older Australians, and those who care for them, should be a national priority.

Yet, two years on, and three waves into the pandemic, which the Aged Care Royal Commission labelled the greatest challenge Australia’s aged care sector has faced, it is in crisis.

“For the past two years aged care services and staff have been on the frontline working day and night in the most challenging situations, doing everything they can, often with limited resources, to keep people safe,” the open letter states.

“Older Australians and their families have endured wave after wave of the pandemic. Our staff and services have risen to this challenge despite the huge cost to themselves and their families.”

Unions and providers say they have kept the federal government informed of the impacts of the pandemic on aged care and routinely put forward solutions to address them.

Although efforts have been made to respond to current issues, regrettably, the organisations say much of the government’s response has fallen short of what Australia’s elderly in care have needed, with residents, families and aged care workers all suffering as a result.

“Sadly, the tragic human cost of this crisis continues to grow,” the open letter says.

“You called a Royal Commission into the aged care system to ‘assure community and industry that there are no systemic problems’ impacting quality and safety. The Royal Commission found that ‘the Australian aged care system is unacceptable and unsustainable’ due in large part to ‘fundamental systemic flaws’.

“Most notably, with regards to a workforce that is undervalued, understaffed and underpaid, and services that are not funded to deliver all the care that is needed to the standards that are desired. These fundamental issues, which were cracks in the aged care system, are now being turned into chasms by the pandemic.”

To protect older Australians and those who care for them, unions and providers are calling on the government to do the following:

  • Workforce:
  1. immediately lift staff wages as recommended by RC and publicly commit to fully funding the outcome of the FWC work value case process.
  2. In addition to planned ADF support, immediately address critical staff and skills shortages.
  • Operating Costs: immediately increase subsidies paid to services to fund the increase in new operating costs incurred for improved infection prevention and protection measures.
  • Resilience: establish the proposed National Aged Care Covid Coordination Centre (NAT-ACCC) in partnership with States/Territory governments and the sector to ensure that aged care services are effectively resourced, enabled and supported to deal with future waves.

“As the pandemic continues, ensuring the staff on the frontline in aged care are resourced and enabled to effectively care for and protect older Australians is in your hands,” the open letter concludes.

“As Prime Minister, we call on you to work with us to resolve this crisis.”

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