Yesterday, the Aged Care Minister announced an expert taskforce that would develop a wide-ranging workforce strategy, focused on supporting safe, quality aged care for senior Australians.

“The Taskforce will reach out to senior Australians and their families, consumer organisations, informal carers, aged care workers and volunteers,” said Aged Care Minister, Ken Wyatt.

“It will also consult with many others including unions, health professionals, universities and the health, education, employment and disability sectors.”

“The Taskforce will explore short, medium and longer term options to boost supply, address demand and improve productivity for the aged care workforce,” said Minister Wyatt.

“With Australia’s current aged care staffing needs predicted to grow from around 360,000 currently to almost one million by 2050, workforce issues are vital to the quality ongoing care of older Australians.”

However, the news has received mixed reactions – with praise from peak bodies, and criticism from unions.

Peak Body Involvement

Aged & Community Services Australia will play a key role in shaping the future aged care sector workforce strategy through the appointment of Pat Sparrow, chief executive of Aged & Community Services Australia to the new aged care workforce taskforce.

As CEO of ACSA, Ms. Sparrow will join individual service providers, academics, consumer and health officials on the 12-member taskforce, developing a strategy to boost the supply of aged care workers in a sector facing a critical shortage of staff between now and 2050.

“I’m looking forward to working with this expert panel on what is one of the most pressing issues for the sector into the future,” said Ms. Sparrow.

“Together, we have the opportunity to apply the very best thinking in the sector to solve critical issues around workforce supply, demand and productivity to get this right for the future care needs of older Australians.”

“Getting this right now, means securing the sort of workforce the sector needs into the future with the right mix of skills in those areas of most need.”

“As we work through the issues, I’ll be representing providers’ views as we develop a workforce strategy that reflects a strong shared understanding of the workforce needs of the future and who is responsible for meeting them.”

Minister Wyatt outlined the need to dramatically boost the number of aged care workers from 360,000 currently to around one million by 2050.

“Workforce issues are vital to the quality ongoing care of older Australians,” he said. The workforce taskforce is due to report to the Minister by June 30, 2018.

Backlash from Nurses Union

The Australian Nursing and Midwifery Federation (Victorian Branch), however, are disappointed with the taskforce as it lacks any actual workforce representatives.

“It gives us no confidence that Federal Aged Care Minister Ken Wyatt has failed to include any workforce representatives on his new aged care workforce taskforce,” said ANMF (Vic Branch) Secretary, Lisa Fitzpatrick.

“Who will listen to residents, their families and their nurses and carers? Who will stand up, regardless of the industry lobbying or the politics and say the answer is mandated safe nurse/ carer to resident ratios?”

The issues that the workforce taskforce are focussing on are the very reason why some aged care workers are striking.

Rolling strikes have started across half of Bupa’s 26 Victorian nursing homes. ANMF (Victoria Branch) have been trying to negotiate a new enterprise bargaining agreement for nurses and carers with Bupa management since July 2016.

The Aged Care Act requires nursing homes to ‘maintain an adequate number of appropriately skilled staff to ensure that the care needs of care recipients are met’. ‘Adequate’ is not defined in the legislation and it is not enforceable.

Ms Fitzpatrick said “aged care nurses and carers striking for the very first time is evidence something is deeply wrong with the aged care system and the way employers choose to roster staff.”

“Residents have increasingly complex nursing needs, but there are fewer nurses. Safe staffing is not supported by the aged care law, the aged care assessment audits, the Aged Care Complaints Commissioner or workplace laws.”

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