Australia will not have enough aged care workers within the next decade unless urgent action is taken to boost the workforce, a report has found.
The report, Duty of Care: Meeting the Aged Care Workforce Challenge, set out to examine how state and federal governments and the industry can grow the aged care workforce and improve quality of care for older Australians.
Released today, the report was published by the Committee for Economic Development of Australia (CEDA), an independent, membership-based think tank.
It has set out 18 recommendations, including better wages and working conditions, more training for staff, investment in new technology, and knowledge sharing and promotion of the industry.
According to the report, Australia has failed to build an aged care workforce big enough to meet community expectations.
“As demand has soared amid major constraints on supply, there has been no comprehensive action to bring the two into balance,” the report said.
“If the workforce continues expanding at its current glacial pace, CEDA estimates that within the next decade there will be a shortage of 110,000 direct aged care workers.”
This could result in a shortage of 400,000 workers by 2050, according to the report.
“We will need at least 17,000 more direct aged care workers each year in the next decade just to meet basic standards of care,” it said.
“If the workforce continues expanding at its current glacial pace… within the next decade there will be a shortage of 110,000 direct aged care workers.” – CEDA’s Duty of Care: Meeting the Aged Care Workforce Challenge report
Right mix of staff needed
However, increasing the number of workers alone will not resolve the problem, but a right mix of qualified staff across professions is also needed.
This will include both nurses and allied-health professionals, such as physiotherapists, speech pathologists and psychologists.
“The royal commission found that access to allied health was insufficient in both residential and in-home care, and that increased levels of allied health are crucial to maintaining capacity and preventing deterioration of health,” the report said.
The Department of Health does not currently mandate minimum staffing levels for residential aged care.
“The royal commission found that access to allied health was insufficient in both residential and in-home care.” – CEDA’s Duty of Care: Meeting the Aged Care Workforce Challenge report
However, the Aged Care Quality Standards require all aged care services to have a sufficient, skilled and qualified workforce.
Better data is needed to assist with long-term workforce planning, however, existing data on the workforce is limited, according to the report.
This data is taken from the National Aged Care Workforce Census and Survey, which is undertaken every four years.
Statistics from the 2016 Census showed that 72 per cent of direct-care workers were employed as personal care attendants, 25 per cent as nurses and only four per cent were in allied health.
Lack of transparency over financial arrangements
Although Australia spends around the OECD average on aged care, it is well below the average of countries known for high-quality care, such as the Netherlands and Scandinavian countries.
There is currently a lack of transparency over financial arrangements in the sector, according to the report, and where funding is directed within service provision.
The report recommends that one of the immediate priorities should be addressing underlying working conditions, such as low wages and inconsistent working hours.
“Aged care has a reputation as an undesirable industry to work in, exacerbated by coverage of the aged care royal commission,” the report said.
“At a bare minimum, wages should be comparable to those in adjacent industries such as health and disability.”
“Aged care has a reputation as an undesirable industry to work in.” – CEDA’s Duty of Care: Meeting the Aged Care Workforce Challenge report
The report said that action is required from federal and state governments and the industry itself to resolve this problem.
“Reforming aged care and providing world-class care that meets community expectations is a multidimensional challenge,” it said.
“Issues of viability, funding, governance and regulation must all be addressed, and improvements cannot be achieved without widespread reform.”