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Aged care crisis: the need for an urgent review – opinion

Workforce shortages present a significant challenge for the aged care industry. The increasing demand of work in the field, combined with the COVID-19 pandemic management requirements, highlights an urgent need for a review of the aged care crisis.

Although the federal government made an effort to alleviate the issues by offering two one-off $400 payments to aged care workers to retain them in the workforce, this was critiqued by the Australian Nursing Federation and the national president of the Health Services Union, Gerard Hayes, who called it “insulting”.

While the unions believe more has to be done to retain aged care workers, the government seems not to have any action plan to improve the chronic issue.

According to the Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety, in 2018 residential aged care workplaces were understaffed, de-professionalised and demoralised. Aged care workers were facing the undervaluing of their skills, heavy workloads, occupational health and safety risks, diminished opportunities for providing meaningful and holistic care, insufficient training and lack of career progression.

The commissioner also has stressed aged care in Australia is a shocking tale of “neglect”. The already suffering aged care workers have since been coping with the lack of supply of PPE and RAT test as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. This situation has exacerbated the working conditions of aged care workers and has led to significantly increased rates of burnout.

Pay disparity further adds to aged care workers’ dissatisfaction. The Aged Care Royal Commissioners highlighted the disparity between registered nurses and enrolled nurses working in aged care and their acute sector counterparts, and highlighted the need for equal remuneration application to the Fair Work Commission in 2021. To date there are no effective strategies in place to address the highlighted issue.

Remuneration disparity also occurs between the disability and aged care sectors. The higher wages offered in the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) is luring workers away from the already vulnerable field of aged care. This has also led the aged care industry to face a critical workforce shortage.

To address the highlighted issues of the aged care sector, it is recommended:

  1. Further provision of funding to retain current health care workers in aged care.
  2. Increase the wages of aged care workers, including registered nurses and enrolled nurses, to attract sufficient workforce for the industry.
  3. Provide adequate and appropriate PPE and RAT access for aged care workers.
  4. Allow families and volunteers to visit residents in aged care facilities to provide required social and emotional support, assistance at mealtimes, and ‘mobilising’. (This may assist in easing the burden of the current workforce.)
  5. Review any unnecessary workload (ie documentation) to ensure more time is spent providing quality care.


Royal Commission, into Aged Care Quality and Safety. 2018. https://agedcare.royalcommission.gov.au/about/terms-reference

Australian Broadcasting Corporation, Scott Morrison admits crisis in aged care amid COVID outbreaks, says Defence not the solution. 2022. https://www.abc.net.au/news/2022-02-04/royal-commissioner-says-aged-care-is-in-crisis-scott-morrison/100804202

Australian Broadcasting Corporation, Fears of aged care industry exodus as unions slam cash payments for workers. 2022. https://www.abc.net.au/news/2022-02-01/unions-slam-aged-care-cash-payments-warn-of-industry-exodus/100794054

Australian Nursing and Midwifery Journal, Peak nursing organisations condemn Morrison Government for failures in aged care.2022. https://anmj.org.au/peak-nursing-organisations-condemn-morrison-government-for-failures-in-aged-care/

Australian Nursing and Midwifery Federation, Victoria Branch, Wages for aged care work need to increase: Royal Commissioners.  2021. https://otr.anmfvic.asn.au/articles/wages-for-aged-care-work-need-to-increase-royal-commissioners

National Disability Insurance Agency Enterprise Agreement 2020-2023. file:///Users/mojdeh/Downloads/EA%20NDIA%20Enterprise%20Agreement%202020-23%20PDF.pdf

Dr Mozhdeh Tahghighi holds a PhD in Psychology and Master of Nursing Science and is a clinical nurse manager in the aged care sector.

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  1. Unfortunately not all aged care providers get the 800 dollars ,anyone working in TCP do not get it which is unbelievable

  2. Aged care providers simply cannot increase wages because they have been chronically underfunded since 2015.
    The government controls wages and funding and deliberately caused massive hardship on the sector and despite a royal commission has done virtually nothing to rectify the situation.

    Nurses went on strike today, why haven’t associations like LASA and ACSA shown a little spine ! Facilities could withhold reporting to the Health department, withhold non vital documents and force meaningful conversation. The government can’t sanction every home! Nine homes have closed since December and while covid certainly hasn’t helped the sector was on its knees before this.

    The associations should be promoting legal action against the government for neglect, it should also be seeking compensation for the financial losses and hardship as a result of the government funding cuts that has done so much damage to so many elderly and their care workforce.

  3. I agree with all the points clearly made.
    Fundamentally we need a change in attitude and priorities in the Australian population towards care of our older folk in Australia.
    This, I suspect, is the only way to make long lasting and significant improvements in the way this vital area of care is respected, valued and funded. The power of the voter.
    Although this may sound theoretical and difficult to achieve, I don’t think this is the case.
    From a purely selfish point of view, a large number of us will require such care at some stage no matter how wealthy, healthy and well supported we may be at the moment, when we are younger and have the power in society, and I can’t understand why people don’t realise this and invest heavily in their future! It goes without saying, that the way we treat our old folk is a strong reflection of the values and quality of our society.
    So I think societal attitudes can change and relatively quickly.
    I hope this Covid 19 crisis can be a catalyst for this and shine a light on the siutaion.

  4. Point 4 is already happening in some facilities it DOES, not may, assist both the resident and staff. My sister and I have been doing this with our mum for three years. It now takes an hour to feed her as she is a choking risk. Staff do not have that time to devote to her. It means mum gets to have her whole meal and staff can assist other residents. Neglect of residents is mainly due to staff not having time, particularly for the high care residents. Agree that there needs to be cultural change in relation to how we care for our elderley…it would definitely be an investment in our own future!!

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