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Govt to act on Cert III quality concerns in aged care

Nurses raise the issue of wages and quality training in aged care with federal minister for ageing during recent public forum, reports Darragh O Keeffe and Natasha Egan.

Federal Minister for Ageing Mark Butler has said the government may respond to the quality issues in aged care training, as highlighted by the Productivity Commission’s Caring for Older Australians report, ahead of its formal response to the proposed reforms.

Speaking at a ‘conversation on ageing’ hosted by Council on the Ageing (COTA) NSW in Sydney, Butler said the PC had recommended an immediate review of training in aged care, particularly the quality of Certificate III training, which was raised in many submissions to the PC’s inquiry and its subsequent public hearings.

Butler said there may be ways of responding to the current problems with training ahead of the government’s formal response to the wide-ranging reforms proposed in the report.

“I think that issue can be decoupled from the other broader issues and perhaps we can respond to that before responding to the other recommendations,” he said.

Several registered nurses in attendance raised the issue of clinical oversight in aged care with the minister. One retired RN, whose father is currently living in residential care, said immigrants were coming to work in aged care with no training or skills, very poor written and spoken English, and operating under “no clinical governance whatsoever”.

“If you come to work in a residential facility, and you can’t read or write English, how are you expected to follow clinical instructions? It’s a recipe for disaster,” she said.

She said she spent every night of the week visiting her father in his facility and it was her personal oversight of his care that was keeping him alive. “He’s had three admissions to hospital because of omissions of care; things not being done right,” she told the forum.

While the Cert III issue has been high on the agenda since the PC consultations, it wasn’t the sole issue nurses raised with Butler at the Sydney forum. They also quizzed him on the PC’s recommendations around workforce and the salary gap between nurses working in aged care and acute.

Butler acknowledged the wages issues was significant, across the board.

“It’s a very big problem; it’s an equity issue essentially… Aged care workers are doing incredibly important work in the community and often earning $16 an hour, and quite frankly they could often earn more down at the local pub,” he said.

He said the issue also raised broader questions about how the community values aged care work in general.

Elsewhere, Butler said that the reform of aged care and the issue of an ageing population in general, should be viewed in a positive light.

Australia had worked very hard to stop people dying in their 50s and to raise the average life expectancy by 20 to 30 years over the past century. He said this should be applauded and not seen as a problem – as it is often framed by economists and the media.

Butler said that one of the first radio interviews he engaged in following the release of the PC report began by asking him how he was going to respond to “the problem of the ageing population”.

“I think we need to unpack that question a bit. I mean, do we want to go back to the time when people died at 50? As a country we’ve worked very hard to stop people dying in their 50s, to add to the life expectancy…

“The ageing population presents unique opportunities, and yes, some challenges,” he said.

This, he said, was why the Prime Minister Julia Gillard had adopted a more positive approach to the issue.

“There’s no shortage of reviews into aged care in the last decade. There are 10 or 15 of them sitting on a shelf somewhere, gathering dust. There’s no shortage of ideas on how you deliver a quality aged care industry. The difference with the PC inquiry report is that it is matched by a commitment by the Prime Minister that aged care reform will happen in the second term of this government,” he said.

Butler said the Prime Minister had been careful not to rule in or out any of the recommendations, so that there could be a robust and open discussion among stakeholders of the merits of each recommendation, “rather than us cherry picking some and ignoring others”.

Butler is holding 33 further ‘conversations on ageing’ forums across the country in the coming weeks. He is also engaging with provider peak bodies, consumer groups, unions and associated clinical bodies like the Australian Association of Gerontology, he said. See also pages 18 and 19.

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