Staff shortage grips aged care

Aged care sector struggling with worker shortage a year on from royal commission

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Aged Care Minister Richard Colbeck said that the commission's recomendations were being impelemented and have provided care for many already. Picture: Sitthixay Ditthavong -THE CANBERRA TIMES, ACM.

Aged Care Minister Richard Colbeck said that the commission's recomendations were being impelemented and have provided care for many already. Picture: Sitthixay Ditthavong -THE CANBERRA TIMES, ACM.

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Advocates, providers and the Labor party have used the first anniversary of the royal commission into aged care to call for a better strategy.

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Staff shortages remain the biggest issue in Australia's aged care sector one year on from a damning royal commission, industry leaders and advocates say.

While the federal government had provided additional funding for in-home support, a lack of workers was still the major problem.

"The big challenge that is not been fully dealt with by either government or the provider sector is workforce," Ian Yates, Council on the Ageing chief executive, said.

"I think what we're lacking ... is strategy for increasing the numbers in the workforce and part of that is wages."

Mr Yates said the home care program had also helped 80,000 elderly Australians over the past two years and reduced waiting lists and wait times for places in aged care facilities.

Service providers and the federal opposition have used the one-year anniversary of the Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety to pressure the Morrison government to step up its response to the inquiry, which identified "systemic flaws" and found that one in three of Australia's aged care residents had suffered substandard care.

Aged Care Services Minister Richard Colbeck said the government's actions to date were having a "positive impact".

"We are investing $18.3 billion into aged care reform that will put senior Australians first, improving quality, safety and choice in aged care," a spokesman for the minister said.

"The implementation of those reforms are already having a positive impact, such as the expansion of the home care program," he said.

Of the 148 recommendations made in the royal commission report, 126 were accepted or accepted in-principle by the federal government.

But advocates and providers say support has been slow, is not holistic, and fails to fully address the issues faced by the sector.

"Progress has been slower than I think everybody hoped it would be and that's partly due to the pandemic, particularly the last two-and-a-half months with the Omicron wave," Aged and Community Services Australia chief executive, Paul Sadler, said

The industry was having trouble attracting, paying, and retaining staff and the COVID-19 Omicron wave had stretched the workforce further.

"We had an average of 25 to 30 per cent of staff have either COVID or they were close contacts and, in some instances, it went as high as 50 per cent of the staff being unavailable," he said.

More than 500 coronavirus aged care deaths have been reported in 2022, increasing from 282 in 2021.

"It's important to point out that the royal commission wasn't called to look at a pandemic and some parts of what have happened to us since then, like the nature of the Omicron wave, wouldn't have been evident to the royal commission while it was still sitting because their report was handed down a year ago now," Mr Sadler said.

At a press conference on Tuesday morning in Melbourne, Labor leader Anthony Albanese accused Richard Colbeck of being "incompetent".

"On this anniversary of the aged care royal commission, we expect to see some announcements, some increase in funding, something from the government going forward," he said.

Aged care workers are in negotiations in the Fair Work Commission for a permanent pay rise, rather than the $400 cash hand out Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced in February.

This story first appeared on the Canberra Times.

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