Crisis looming in aged care

Unless the aged care system undergoes major reform it will be crippled by burgeoning costs and eventually become unsustainable, reports National Seniors Australia.

A new report commissioned by National Seniors shows the Australian aged care system to be on the brink of crisis and struggling to cope with the increasing demands of a rapidly ageing population.

The report, The Future of Aged Care in Australia, was prepared by Access Economics. It outlines the main issues and problems facing the current aged care system: staffing and bed shortages; an aged care system under stress and under-resourced; and a worrying decline in the quality of care in nursing homes and in the delivery of services.

The report says unless the aged care system undergoes major reform, it will be crippled by burgeoning costs and eventually become unsustainable.

Access Economics quotes some alarming facts on aged care in Australia.

‘The aged care system is experiencing rapid demand growth due to demographic ageing, increases in income and expectations, and increasing prevalence of chronic disease. These factors have led to Treasury estimates that Australian Government spending on aged care will more than double relative to national income over the period of the Third Intergenerational Report [2010 to 2050],’ it says.

‘Residential aged care staff are projected to increase by around 14.1% by 2020 in contrast to a 56.8% increase in demand. There is a need for improved wages and conditions to attract skilled staff, better training and advancement opportunities, and a more positive workplace culture.’

National Seniors Chief Executive, Michael O’Neill, says all this spells bad news for consumers.

‘Older Australians are already feeling the effects of a system in decline. In the past five years the ratio of more qualified to less qualified staff has dropped, and the ratio of residents to staff has increased.

‘Not only do nurses get paid $300 a week less in aged care but when the system is run as a business, cost cutting comes in the way of staffing reductions.

‘This situation is unacceptable in a country as advanced and as wealthy as Australia,’ he says.

ANF Secretary Lee Thomas says both the Federal Government and providers play the blame game in aged care.

‘The Federal Government says it pours billions of dollars into aged care each year, providers say it’s not enough.

‘It’s common sense that when you’ve got a $300-a-week wages gap between aged care nurses and nurses working in other sectors people are going to have to make decisions about their family budgets. Many of them don’t want to do that but they have to,’ said Lee.

Key points of the National Seniors aged care report

  • Government spending on aged care will more than double relative to national income between 2010 and 2050.
  • In the past five years quality of care in nursing homes has deteriorated with the ratio of more qualified to less qualified staff dropping and the ratio of residents to staff increasing.
  • Patients record greater satisfaction and better health outcomes on a number of clinical indicators when there are higher proportions of Registered Nurses.
  • In the next 10 years nursing home staff numbers are projected to increase by only around 14% yet demand is set to jump by almost 60%.
  • There is an urgent need for improved wages and conditions to attract skilled staff, better training and advancement opportunities, and a more positive workplace culture.