Home | Aged Care Royal Commission | Aged care minister applauds “ambitious reforms” as facilities continue to struggle
Although many reforms have been implemented, aged care facilities are still struggling. Picture: AAP Image / Mick Tsikas

Aged care minister applauds “ambitious reforms” as facilities continue to struggle

Minister for Aged Care Anika Wells has commended the Albanese Government's "ambitious" aged care reforms despite facilities struggling to reach mandates.

The latest Aged Care Quarterly Financial Snapshot (QFS) reported an increase of four minutes compared to last quarter, with residential aged care providers delivering care on an average of 194 minutes per resident.

"When the Albanese Government came into office, the aged care sector was hurting from a lack of investment and innovation, but in just 12 months, there is now an optimistic outlook for the financial performance of the sector," Minister Wells said.

"I am particularly pleased to see care minutes increase to 194 minutes for the last quarter of the year, showing that the sector average of 200 care minutes is well within grasp.

"The positive trend seen across the last four Quarterly Financial Snapshots show Labor’s reforms to aged care are working."

However, a UTS Ageing Research Collaborative (UARC) report found that 79 per cent of homes were below the minute target for the 2022-23 financial year.

"About four out of five homes across the sector will need to lift their direct care staffing minutes for RN, other direct care, or both," the report said.

"The required uplift in direct care staffing will likely increase homes' direct care labour costs."

The report also found that in the last five years, residential homes lost an estimated $3.5bn, despite government funding totalling almost $4bn.

Aged care provider Uniting said the new requirements exacerbated an already dwindling workforce.

"While Uniting is getting close to meeting the required minimum minutes for care workers, and we almost have 24/7 on-site registered nurse presence across all our aged care homes, we are still struggling to meet minimum registered nurse minutes in many of our homes," a Uniting spokesperson told Aged Care Insite.

"The shortage of registered nurses is especially acute in regional areas."

An Ideagen Aged Care Workforce Report found that 30 per cent of its respondents plan to leave the sector in the next three years, and 49 per cent in the next five.

The report also found that 40 per cent thought it was 'difficult to achieve' the 200-minute mandate.

The 2021 Aged Care Royal Commission report found that residents received an average of eight minutes per day, with the number almost halving to 5.3 minutes in 2022.

Deputy chair of the Australian Council of Deans of Health Sciences (ACDHS), Terry Haines, said training to achieve the 22 minutes would need to start today.

"To achieve the 22 minutes a day by 2033, Australia would need to train another 25,000 allied health professionals," Mr Haines said.

"Due to the high demand, obstacles to supply, and the overall time required to increase the number, the training would need to start today."

The requirements also challenged rural and regional aged care, with facilities facing acute financial viability concerns.

The UARC report found 83 per cent of surveyed homes in rural towns were operating a loss, losing an average of almost $44 per resident per day. Major cities were losing only a third of that amount, at only $14.40 per resident per day.

Deputy chief of Whiddon Alyson Jarrett said staffing was especially difficult for Whiddon's rural and regional facilities.

"While we will continue to make every effort to meet the requirements, the care minutes do present challenges – particularly in regional areas, where staffing is an ongoing challenge," Ms Jarrett said.

"We have had to rely on temporary staff sourced through third-party agencies to fill some gaps.

"This agency model is not a sustainable way for us to ensure continuity of our care for our residents into the future."

Ms Jarrett said 95 per cent of Whiddon facilities met the 24/7 registered nurse mandate, with two being exempt due to the size. However, recruitment in rural and regional locations posed a challenge.

"In the last 12 months, the average time to recruit a registered nurse was more than six weeks, and this average is much longer in our regional locations," she said.

"Whiddon has undertaken a range of recruitment initiatives to employ nurses at our regional homes, such as accommodation and re-location support, exploring international workforce options, and using contracted agency staff."

HammondCare faced a similar issue as general manager of residential care Angela Raguz said the targets felt more like a competition.

"Meeting the targeted 40 minutes for the registered nurse workforce has bee more of a challenge with providers competing with the hospital system for key workers," Ms Raguz said.

"Recruiting nurses continues to be difficult, and this challenge increases in less central or non-metro locations."

Ms Raguz said inclusion of other key nurses within the minutes would help facilities in reaching the target.

"Including enrolled nurses, endorsed enrolled nurses, and nurse practitioners within the targeted registered nurse minutes would be a sensible option to consider that would not solve the gap in itself but would make a difference."

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