Minister ‘confident’ on RNs in aged care
The federal minister for aged care, Anika Wells, has raised hopes that every nursing home in Australia will soon have a registered nurse on site 24 hours a day.
In the run-up to the May federal election, Labor promised to mandate RNs on site 24/7, as advocated by the NSWNMA and the Australian Nursing and Midwifery Federation (ANMF), and recommended by the Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety.
The federal minister for aged care, Anika Wells, told The Guardian newspaper in July she was confident the Labor government could meet its commitment on RNs by July 2023.
The 2020 aged care workforce census reported that of Australia’s 2716 nursing homes, 80 per cent already rostered an RN on duty overnight.
Some states already require at least one RN on site 24/7.
Others, such as NSW, require at least one RN on site for morning and afternoon shifts and in some facilities at night.
The ANMF estimates that just over 750 registered nurses would be needed to ensure at least one RN on site 24/7 in all Australian nursing homes.
The ANMF says this number could come from the existing RN workforce.
More than 80 per cent of RNs working in aged care currently work part time.
In surveys conducted for the royal commission, a majority of ANMF members working in aged care indicated they would work more hours if their employer offered them.
The ANMF has also pointed out that several hundred nursing graduates are unable to find secure, meaningful employment each year.
Morrison left a mess
Labor’s pre-election promises on aged care also included mandating at least 215 minutes of care per resident per day, and supporting and funding a pay rise for aged care workers.
Ms Wells told The Guardian that increasing the care workforce remained a challenge.
Declaring the sector to be “in crisis”, she said Labor had inherited “an absolute mess” from the Morrison government.
“It was in crisis before COVID hit, and COVID has exacerbated all of those conditions, particularly workforce,” she said.
Australia’s long border closure for COVID had stopped workers from coming in from overseas, others went back to their home countries during that time, and “a lot of aged care workers are burnt out”.
Ms Wells is in talks with the immigration minister, Andrew Giles, about how changes to the visa system could help bring in the workers Australia needs, but she said this was only “one piece of the puzzle”.
“We have to get people who have left the workforce back into the workforce; we have nurses working part-time hours who would gladly take on more hours if the money was there to make it justifiable.”
She also confirmed the Labor government would support a pay rise for aged care workers in a case currently before the Fair Work Commission (FWC).
Unions are seeking a 25 per cent pay increase and Ms Wells said the government would fund whatever increase the FWC decides.
She said aged care needs “urgent reform as quickly as possible” alongside an overhaul of the funding model to ensure the sector remains financially viable.