Government accused of ignoring actions to fix aged care

The federal government has failed to provide a detailed response to recommended strategic actions outlined in a report delivered by its own Aged Care Workforce Strategy Taskforce review, the Aged Care Royal Commission heard on the opening day of this week’s Melbourne hearing.

Professor John Pollaers, Chair of the Aged Care Workforce Strategy Taskforce, developed to pinpoint ways to grow and sustain the workforce so it can meet the care needs of the nation’s elderly, told the hearing five of the report’s 14 strategic actions directed at the government had not been properly addressed.

The actions include the creation of a social change campaign to reframe caring and promote the aged care workforce, strengthening the interface between aged care and primary/acute care, current and future funding, including staff remuneration, improved training and recruitment practices for the Australian government’s aged care workforce, and establishing an Aged Care Centre for Growth and Translational Research.

Professor Pollaers, who was appointed Chair of the taskforce in September 2017, said he wrote to the Aged Care Minister seeking a point-by-point response to the actions but received insufficient feedback.

“There has been no detailed response at all to each of those recommendations but for a pre-election commitment to fund the Aged Care Centre for Growth and Translational Research.”

Professor Pollaers, who is also a member of the Aged Care Sector Committee, a group providing advice the Aged Care Minister on the sector’s issues, said the lack of action prompted him to refocus his energy on working with industry to achieve progress.

In undertaking the review, he told the hearing he was surprised at the lack of collaboration afforded to him by the government and their inability to communicate a solid point of view on key issues, adding that they seemed focused instead on a different agenda to pit unions and aged care providers against each other in a bid to mask their own inaction in tackling the sector’s problems.

“The way that government has positioned itself over the last few years is that [workforce] can be an industry issue and they can leave industry to deal with the unions, then use the fragmentation as a reason to say ‘Well, without one voice we don’t know what you’re asking’.”

In earlier evidence, Professor Pollaers described the aged care industry as highly fragmented and an “adolescent industry” due to its various bodies with competing interests.

He said the adolescence was represented by various factors, including countless reports on aged care that have led to little action.

Counsel assisting the commission, Peter Rozen QC, acknowledged there is a number of unique features within the aged care sector, including its high dependence on government funding and high regulation and accreditation systems.

“It is but I think the way that I would position it is, it’s heavily government-funded, with a funding instrument that is very non-specific in the way in which those funds should be deployed, in many instances leaving it for the industry to determine how to make that investment,” Professor Pollaers responded.

Delving into the specifics of the taskforce’s report, Mr Rozen enquired about its structure as a set of recommended strategic actions.

“I was very clear with the Minister that this could not just be another review,” Professor Pollaers explained.

“I was very clear that we needed, if this was genuinely an industry strategy, to be able to have decisions taken up by industry and put into action as soon as they were clear, and that this report couldn’t be held off by government before its findings were made available for industry to make progress.”

Mr Rozen singled out Strategic action 7 in the report, implementing new attraction and retention strategies for the workforce, asking Professor Pollaers what needs to be done to make the sector more appealing for younger people and other workers.

“I think it’s the responsibility of all – it’s an all of government responsibility and all of community and all of industry,” Professor Pollaers said.

However, Professor Pollaers stressed issues with attraction and retention could only be addressed by adopting a number of the strategic actions outlined in the report, led by a proactive approach to a social change campaign around ageing in Australia.

He said other important actions include strategic workforce planning and looking at job roles and career opportunities within the sector, the need for a code of practice, a strong sense of purpose so people will feel like they belong, open feedback with management, better working environments and proper career pathways.

“There’s a whole series of things that you would need to do to make this an attractive industry,” Professor Pollaers said.

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