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Does the PC report deliver enough?

There have been mixed reactions to the Productivity Commission’s draft report into aged care.

When so much change is need, there is little chance of everyone getting what they want. But, when so much change is needed, any move for proper reform should be welcomed. This is the view of one aged care nurses on the Productivity Commission’s draft report into aged care.

“From my point of view – a nurses point of view – does it give me everything I want? No it doesn’t. But it is a move in the right direction for the sector in which I love to work in,” she wrote in a letter to Nursing Review.

Signed, ‘Put residents first’, the nurse said she has been working in the sector for more than 10 years, and while only too aware of the issues nurses working in the sector face, such as wage disparity and problematic skill-mix, she believes patients should always be at the forefront.

“Would I like more pay? Of course I would. But who will end up paying for that extra money? I believe, at this stage, it will be the residents.

“I’m hopeful that this inquiry will bring about positive change for the sector as a whole.”

Overall there has been mixed reactions to what is contained in the 500 page document.

The ANF was scathing, warning it risks worsening the problems by not stipulating the need for more staff, minimum hours and licensing of workers.

In its response to the report, the union said the recommendations would roll back control of the sector when more regulation, not less, was required.

ANF federal secretary Lee Thomas said yesterday the report had ignored important issues, such as including the requirement of minimum hours for the delivery of quality care.

And it failed to acknowledge that “extra staffing levels and the right skills mix are integral to improving care for older Australians” in residential homes. “As an ageing population, Australians want to be assured that when they reach an age of reliance and require care, the system will look after their health and care needs,” Thomas said.

“The draft recommendations in the report fail to offer any assurances of this nature. We had hoped the Productivity Commission would make recommendations that would improve the lives of aged-care residents and the staff who care for them, but the report has paid little regard to the issue of care delivery.”

National Seniors Australia chairwoman Judith Sloan agreed aged-care nurses were underpaid, but questioned the ANF’s call for more regulation, saying the controls were already ridiculous.

“The system is broken -- there’s been a capital strike in the sector, and the issue of the department allocating bed licences is absolutely finished, so we have to get rid of that,” Sloan said.

“We accept the role for some sort of user charges, especially with regard to accommodation and top-up care. But we need flexibility in that, and for it to be not too complicated.”
Aged care nurse Michelle Neihoff agrees with ANF’s views.

“I agree the government still have their heads in the sand and us aged care nurses are having to work even harder than we already do because we will still do our utmost to deliver what level of care is needed no matter that the staffing levels never increase with the level of care required by a resident and I feel the government and management of these facilities take advantage of our caring nature,” she wrote in a comment to NR.

The RCNA’s response, however, was much more positive.

RCNA CEO, Debra Cerasa, said she was particularly pleased to see that the focus is on offering older Australians affordable, quality care and more choice rather than shrinking services to contain costs.

“With an ageing population, we cannot afford to restrict essential services. We need a range of service options that are user-friendly, equitable and flexible to support people whether they want to stay in their homes or whether they require a residential facility,” Cerasa said.

So too were the providers and aged care peak bodies.

The report has, at first glance, lived up to its name – Caring for Older Australians.

That’s according to Aged and Community Services Australia (ACSA) acting CEO Pat Sparrow, who said the report paved the way for a sustainable aged care system.

“The time has come for Australia to have a mature discussion about how we reform an ailing system to provide optimum care and support for older people,” Sparrow said in a statement issued on Friday.

“The Commission has proposed payment options for residential care and accommodation which addresses fairness and equity for consumers and a more balanced funding structure for aged care providers,” she said.

UnitingCare Ageing welcomed the report, saying the recommendations appear to address underlying weaknesses in the current system.

“This is a groundbreaking report which has correctly identified and responded to systemic weaknesses in the current aged care and services system,” said Gillian McFee, director, UnitingCare Ageing.

She said it was said the release of the draft report was crucial given the already overburdened system

Minister for Ageing Mark Butler said the federal government recognised the concern about the wages gap between aged-care staff and those in public hospitals.

He encouraged anyone interested to make a submission.

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