Federal election will be aged care’s moment of truth
When the country votes – probably early next year – it will be a rare opportunity to hold our politicians accountable for the woes of the troubled sector.
Members working in aged care will campaign to make the sector a key election issue in the lead up to the next federal election. The union’s key demands are for ratios and better skill mix, RNs to be present in all residential aged care facilities 24 hours a day, seven days a week; improved wages and conditions; and greater transparency and accountability, to ensure funding is meeting the care needs of residents.
“The aged care system has been in turmoil for the best part of the decade, if not longer,” Shaye Candish, NSWNMA Assistant General Secretary, told a recent webinar of aged care member leaders. “Some employers are attempting to do the right thing but aren’t able to, some employers frankly aren’t doing the right thing, and we’ve got a really lacklustre political leadership.”
Shaye said that the recent Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety “demonstrated what members have been saying for so long”. It is disappointing, then, she said, “to see the fairly minimal approach by the government to embrace its recommendations”.
Shaye said the Association will campaign in key marginal seats to raise voter awareness about the state of the sector, and put pressure on whichever party forms government, to prioritise aged care.
Apart from putting pressure on the Morrison government, the Association wants a commitment from Labor – which has so far made few promises in aged care – to do more in the sector if they win government.
“Without campaigning, this is probably as good as it’s going to get in the sector,” Shaye said. “While the government has announced 17.7 billion dollars of additional funding, it hasn’t been explicitly targeted to improving care, improving poor pay and conditions, and ratios.
“We want ratios because we know the only way we can deliver the minimum standard of care that people deserve is if we have some minimum mandated requirements around how many staff have to be in the facility. And we want to see wages and conditions improved because we know that is going to be fundamental to attracting people to the sector and keeping them there.
“Since the royal commission, the government has gone some way to committing to a mandated level of staffing, but it is not far enough. We need a five-star system that actually gives us more RN time and more time for AiNs to care for residents.”
Integrate health and aged care
Anita Westera, a research fellow with the Australian Health Services Research Institute, University of Wollongong, and a former RN, spoke to members during the webinar about the outcomes of the royal commission, which cost $100 million dollars over two years of hearings and attracted close to 11,000 written submissions and nearly 7000 telephone submissions.
“There were some good things and some quick wins as a result of the commission, such as the promise of a new aged care act underpinned by human rights obligations,” Anita said. “A need for more public funding was recognised. And while there was recognition that we need increased staffing levels, that hasn’t included allied health.”
One positive outcome has been the inclusion of aged care in the Independent Hospital Pricing Authority (IHPA), which will be renamed the Independent Hospital and Aged Care Pricing Authority (IHACPA). Anita said this will allow for greater auditing of the costs of aged care and “limit opportunities for gaming”.
“A missed opportunity is that it continued to see aged care as a silo, where older people are sep-arated from health services and local community.”
She said what is needed is better integration of aged and health care, and the reframing of residential care as a non-acute healthcare service.
Sector needs rights-based approach.
Anika Stobart, an associate at the Grattan Institute’s health and aged care program, told members that the royal commission found many systemic problems across the sector.
She said the Association and community groups need to push for the implementation of a rights-based approach to aged care; one that is based on our international obligations to uphold the rights of older people.
Stobart added that the establishment of an independent pricing authority was a big win and means the real cost of care, including staffing and higher wages, can be priced into service delivery.
She said it was positive to see new minimum care hours mandated – an average of at least 200 minutes of care for every resident, every day (40 minutes of which must be by a nurse) – but this will not kick in until 2023.
“On the other hand,” she said, “it is disappointing to see no commitment to minimum training requirements and no support for a wage uplift.”
Shaye urged Association mem-bers working in aged care to join the campaign along with members in other states and territories. “Without pressure we won’t get the changes we need to see, just another level of band aids. Whoever ends up in government, we need to make sure they understand that this is a voting issue in their communities.”
‘Without pressure we won’t get the changes we need to see, just another level of band aids.