One in five aged care staff plan to resign by the end of 2021, with two in five intending to quit within the next five years, according to a recent survey.
The Perfect Storm report, published by consultancy firm CompliSpace, interviewed over 1000 nurses, enrolled nurses, managers, care workers, cleaners, caterers and support teams working in aged care.
Two-thirds of respondents said that underpayment, high stress and excessive paperwork were major factors behind their desire to exit the sector.
CompliSpace executive David Griffiths said that the survey figures came higher than expected.
"It's a fairly stark number when you see that 20 per cent are considering leaving in the next 12 months," he said.
"Contrast that with the royal commission finding that for Australia to provide an acceptable level of staffing, we need to add 20 per cent now.
"It's difficult not to use the phrase that this is a ticking time bomb."
Western Australia and Queensland were identified as the most at-risk regions of severe staffing shortages.
In Queensland, 54 per cent of early-stage care workers, and 53 per cent in WA, said they were due to leave within three years of starting their careers.
By contrast, NSW had an expected early turnover at 42 per cent, with Victoria slightly above at 43 per cent.
"The real challenge is that if we think about the sustainability of that workforce going forward, we want new entries in there, we have to have that," said Griffith.
"All participants around the aged care sectors are doing their best, the workers are doing their best.
"The reality however is that this is a sector that we spend 30 billion dollars a year on, while other comparable countries are spending 50 billion."
The survey found that 85 per cent of respondents reported a dramatic increase in workload as a direct result of the royal commission and COVID-19.
Sweeping changes made to regulatory standards and safety and hygiene practices have tripled the amount of paperwork aged care workers are required to fill.
"It's no surprise that we would see such a level of stress," said Griffith.
"The best employers out there are already doing things to address the additional workload. They are looking at operational efficiencies, and digitising and automating when possible.
"But that's not addressing the low pay levels in the sector, and that needs to be called out."
Despite feeling underpaid, overworked and undervalued, two-thirds of aged care workers said they were fulfilled by their choice of career.
Seven in 10 respondents said their relationships with the residents drive them to stay in the sector.
"What we see here is that this is a sector built around purpose, social connection and ultimately it's a sector built of people who care," said Griffith.
"The biggest and most concerning thing around this report is that we need more people like that in the sector, we shouldn't have them walking out."
“Love doesn't pay the rent”: UWU
United Workers Union aged care director Carolyn Smith said she has heard similar concerns from members out in the workplace.
“We’re hearing that a lot of workers are saying that perhaps they won’t stay in the industry,” she said.
“We talk to workers and they are telling us that almost every day there are shifts that are not filled in their workplace.
“People had a lot of hope that change would come from the royal commission, but we haven’t seen any significant change, and I think that is really upsetting for people.”
In the recent federal budget, the government allocated $3.9 billion for providers to meet minimum staff time standards, $9.8 million to extend the Aged Care Workforce Industry Council’s workforce campaign, and $135.6 million to encourage nurses to remain in the sector.
According to Smith, there is no room for significant changes until wages are increased.
“There is no money allocated to the workforce or increasing the wages, and we are still waiting to see how they are going to allocate it,” she said.
“You cannot provide quality care if you’re not supporting the workforce because people will just get up and leave.”
Aged care staff around the country have also felt the pressure of the vaccine mandate, which came into effect last Friday.
Approximately 98 per cent of the workforce are now fully vaccinated, which was “remarkable”, according to Smith.
“It was really a testament to aged care workers and the work of some providers, but the federal government really botched the rollout in aged care,” she said.
“It hasn’t resulted in the kind of mass loss of staff that we thought it would, but even losing one per cent of staff when we’re already understaffed, it’s already a system teetering on the edge.”
A bid to increase hourly pay rates for aged care staff by up to 25 per cent is currently under review by the Australian Fair Work Commission.
If the case is successful, personal care workers could see their wages rise from $23.09 to $28.86 per hour.
The review is expected to be finalised in 2022.
Smith said the government has no other option but to agree to commit to more funding.
“If we want older Australians to have quality care, we’ve got to pay people well enough to stay in the sector,” she said.
“People love the sector, they love the work they do, they are really passionate about what they do.
“But love doesn't pay the rent."Do you have an idea for a story?
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