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Aged care staffing debate needs to be refocused: LASA

Debate around staffing in aged care facilities should focus on the quality of patient outcomes rather than mandated staffing numbers, LASA chief executive Sean Rooney says.

Mr Rooney said it was not negotiable that older Australians and their families should receive a quality of care that met national standards, and that more than simply staff ratios needed to be considered.

“However, notwithstanding recent public commentary in aged care regarding staff-to-resident ratios, quality of care is not as simple as the number of staff on duty or arbitrary staffing ratios,” Rooney said.

“The basis for deciding on staffing levels and their skills mix needs to be driven by the actual care needs of individual residents.

“Flexibility to adjust the staffing mix as the profile of residents change is a very important consideration and I believe we risk losing sight of this in the current debate.”

Rooney pointed to the Australian Government’s 2011 Productivity Commission Report, Caring for Older Australians, which found that there were both “superficial attractions” and downsides to enforcing mandatory staffing ratios.

“An across-the-board staffing ratio is a fairly ‘blunt’ instrument for ensuring quality care because of the heterogeneous and ever-changing care needs of aged care recipients – in the Commission’s view it is unlikely to be an efficient way to improve the quality of care,” the report stated.

“Imposing mandated staffing ratios could also eliminate incentives for providers to invest in innovative models of care, or adopt new technologies that could assist care recipients.”

LASA also noted last week’s announcement that the Queensland Labor state government would commit to introducing public reporting on “safe staff to patient ratios” in aged care institutions, and lobby the federal government to mandate nurse-to-resident ratios in private aged care facilities.

“LASA has written to the Queensland Premier to query this approach and propose a more informed and appropriate way forward,” Rooney said.

“The workforce of tomorrow will be dramatically different from the workforce of today and yesterday.

“New models of care and the use of new technologies will result in us working very differently in the future as compared to the past; this too will impact on the number, mix and competencies of the age services workforce of the future.”

LASA also acknowledged the federal government’s recently announced Aged Care Workforce Taskforce, which will develop a wide-ranging workforce strategy focused on supporting safe, quality aged care for senior Australians. 

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