Education and professional development vital
The aged care royal commission wants the federal government to establish a national registration scheme for carers.
The royal commission says registration of carers should incorporate a mandatory minimum qualification of a Certificate III, ongoing training requirements and minimum English-language levels.
The registration scheme should be up and running by 1 July 2022, it says.
It suggests transitional arrangements be put in place for existing care workers who do not meet minimum requirements.
They should be allowed to apply for registration based on their experience and prior learning.
The commissioners agree with the Australian Nursing and Midwifery Federation (ANMF) that “personal care workers should be provided with support to complete the qualification, including reasonable time to enrol, paid study leave, workplace mentoring support and technological supports to complete coursework”.
“We are in no doubt that a registration scheme is required for personal care workers.”
They say that “regulation of personal care workers by registration, with a mandatory minimum qualification requirement, ongoing training requirements, a code of conduct, and a complaint process, will help to professionalise and improve the quality of the personal care worker workforce”.
They point out there is “currently no formal industry standard for an entry-level qualification to work as a personal care worker”.
“Aged care workers need to have good quality, and easily accessible, ongoing training and professional development opportunities available to them.
“Such training and professional development opportunities must reflect the contemporary and future care needs of older people.”
Tie funding to education
The commission says that from 1 July 2021, federal, state and territory governments should “fast-track the development of accredited, nationally recognised short courses, skills sets and micro-credentials”.
It points out that the federal government contributes 80 per cent of the cost of aged care.
The commission says the government should therefore tie aged care subsidies to “a standard amount per employee to support ongoing training and development for existing and new personal care workers”.
“Approved providers must support the aged care workforce to access ongoing training through financial assistance to cover or part-cover the training, paid leave to attend training, and promotion of an organisational culture that values skills development.”
The commission points out that training courses are not always available locally and workers cannot always attend courses in person due to work and family commitments.
It therefore recommends that short courses be made available and delivered electronically.
“High-quality and targeted short courses, including micro-credentials, are a suitable way to address skills gaps, satisfy continuing professional development requirements, or enable people to gradually work towards a formal qualification in the new aged care system.
“They can enable new and existing employees to build specific skills of high relevance to aged care work.”
‘We are in no doubt that a registration scheme is required for personal care workers.’ — Royal Commission
‘We will have to keep pressure on the government’
Aged care workers will have to campaign to ensure all government funding is linked to increased staffing and higher wages, says commission witness.
An NSWNMA member who gave evidence to the aged care royal commission has welcomed its findings – and urged unions and the public to maintain pressure on the government to promptly implement them.
Assistant in Nursing Susan Walton gave evidence to the commission about what it was like to work at a chronically understaffed nursing home.
Susan joined with other NSWNMA members in campaigning at election time and travelling to Canberra to lobby MPs for aged care improvements.
Susan welcomes the commission’s recognition that aged care is understaffed and its workforce is underpaid and under-skilled.
“The commission recognises that a better system will cost more, and that extra funding needs to lead to more staff and higher pay.
“We will have to keep pressure on the government to make sure this happens.”
She says the commission’s recommendation for mandatory minimum staff times per resident is a good move.
“We have to make sure that the recommendations lead to employment of more staff.
“We can’t keep on working short and doing double shifts as normal practice.”
Link funding to care and wages
It will be vital to ensure that all government funding is linked to direct care and staff wages, Susan says.
She points to a current campaign by aged care employers for more funding for the sector.
The ‘It’s Time to Care About Aged Care’ campaign is being run by the new Australian Aged Care Collaboration (AACC) alliance, which includes not-for-profit providers and a number of private operators.
“Their petition for more government support makes no mention of what they intend to do with the extra funding,” she points out.
She describes the commission’s recommendation for a registration scheme for care workers as “a fantastic idea that should have been brought in long ago”.
“Staff need to be fully qualified to deal with our vulnerable elderly people. A six-week course is not enough, and you need to be able to speak English adequately.
“Also, further education and training should be delivered by organisations and people who are properly qualified. It should be paid for by the employers, from the extra funding they will receive, but it shouldn’t necessarily be delivered by them.”
Susan says it’s essential for care workers to learn how to deal sympathetically and effectively with people with dementia.
“I see inexperienced carers who do not know how to care for our elderly who have dementia.
“They don’t realise they can’t change their behaviour, don’t recognise the signs of their disease, and don’t know how to approach their challenging behaviour.
“When a carer takes the wrong approach, it can change the resident’s behaviour immediately and make it extremely difficult for the resident.
“It’s not hard to realise that having more qualified staff, and staff to resident ratios would change the lives of residents and staff members dramatically for the better.
“Following the Royal Commission report there is now no excuse not to immediately start to implement these improvements.”