The aged care sector's workforce crisis is greater than ever with a report showing the annual worker shortage faced by providers has doubled in less than a year to 35,000 mainly because of the pandemic and a lack of action by government.
The report, Duty of care: Aged care sector in crisis, by the Committee for Economic Development Australia (CEDA) also shows 65,000 workers are leaving the sector each year.
"If workforce shortages at this level continue, we will not have enough workers to meet the basic standards of care recommended by the Royal Commission," said CEDA Senior Economist Cassandra Winzar.
"Miniscule levels of migration and increased levels of attrition in the sector, estimated to be around 65,000 workers a year, have exacerbated existing shortages.
"The aged care workforce was already under significant pressure with staff shortages, low pay, poor working conditions and increased negative attention through the Royal Commission.
"Over the past year, COVID-19 has amplified these pressures.
"Aged care has been at the centre of many COVID-19 outbreaks, resulting in even more difficult working conditions and staff themselves becoming sick.
"For a workforce that was already burnt out prior to COVID-19, this has been the breaking point for many. During a time where unemployment is low, many have chosen to leave the sector," she said.
Ms Winzar added current government commitments to increase the quality of aged care through including 24/7 registered nurses in residential aged care and longer mandated care time will be difficult to achieve without a turnaround in the workforce numbers.
"Importantly, meeting the goal of an extra 35,000 workers will only get Australian aged care to basic levels of care."
The report recommends increasing award wages in the sector through the Fair Work Commission's work value case; recruiting personal-care workers by adding them to the temporary or permanent skilled-migration lists, or by introducing a new 'essential skills' visa; and Industry and governments should develop low-cost retraining options for those returning to the industry to boost skills and attract workers.
Aged & Community Care Providers Association (ACCPA) interim chief executive Paul Sadler said the figures were alarming but not unexpected.
"We believe the shortage could be even worse."Mr Sadler said.
"The new federal government will have difficulty achieving its aged care policy priorities of Registered Nurses in aged care homes 24/7 and minimum care minutes without immediate action.
"The pandemic has taken its toll on the aged care sector with thousands of staff leaving or planning to leave due to low pay, burnout or simply finding better job opportunities. The CEDA report highlights the need for urgent action to ensure older Australians do not miss out on care and support.
"Funding is a key issue. We welcome the government's commitment to fund a pay increase for aged care workers arising from the Fair Work Commission work value case due later this year or early next year."
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