National Press Club Aged Care Forum – Lee Thomas ANMF

On July 13th the National Press Club hosted an Aged Care Forum on the topic ‘The Aged Care Conundrum: Meeting The Care Needs of an Ageing Population Without Blowing the Budget’.

ANMF Federal Secretary Lee Thomas addressed the National Press Club about the developing crisis in aged care in Australia. With neither major political party having a vision for positive policy on aged care, Lee Thomas outlined the ANMF’s 3 point plan to tackle the issues.

Read the full speech and plan below. And watch the video of the Forum here.

It’s hard to believe that I stood in this place 4 years ago and spoke to you about the importance of aged care. That was prior to the 2013 federal election and the announcement of the Living Longer Living Better reforms that have continued to shape the sector.

Living Longer Living Better has changed the lives of older Australians, it has allowed people to receive more care in their own homes and put the consumer in the driver’s seat, improving access and choice of service and service provider.

The sector and in most cases consumers have welcomed these changes but they have come at a price.

The aged care workforce 4 years ago was straining under the pressure of poor staff levels and a diminishing skill pool.

Four years ago I told you that it wasn’t uncommon for one registered nurse and perhaps a couple of assistants in nursing to be responsible for the care of up to 60 residents.  Well today in many places its much, much worse.

There are fewer skilled registered nurses per resident. There is limited access to allied health professionals like physios, dieticians and occupational therapists and often residents are sent to an emergency department for the want of a visit from a GP.  Aged care workers tell me that it’s now not uncommon to be caring for 100 residents or more.

I can only imagine how the consumer feels after being hurried along to have a shower or to eat a meal not to mention the pressure those workers feel and their exhaustion at the end of a shift.

And it’s not that the people they are caring for are any less frail or ill, in fact with an average age of 85+, significant chronic illnesses and length of stay at an all-time low the fact is that residents are entering the sector older, more frail and with greater co morbidities.  This causes even greater pressure on staff.

Recently the ANMF conducted an aged care phone in and we heard from workers, consumers and families about their views of the sector:

I am registered nurse and have been working in aged care for 20 years.

Last year there was a roster review at the facility where I worked and the organisation made the decision to cut 16 hours per day from the care staff roster.

The only option I had was to resign as I could not stay and work under those conditions knowing that the care I would be responsible for delivering would not be of a high standard.

I moved to another aged care facility but they too have just reviewed their staffing hours and are going to cut 9 hours per day from the care staff roster.

I am saddened and disillusioned with aged care and fear for our vulnerable residents and the standard of care they are going to receive.

In the last few years we have had opportunities to improve the lives of older Australians receiving care and we have missed them, instead ripping funding out of an already underfunded system.

This appalling lack of regard that Australian Governments and politicians have shown to our elderly by ignoring them and by taking away the funding that would allow them some dignity at the end of their lives.

What kind of a society condones removing funding from the most frail elderly, in some cases up to $50 a day? 1

What kind of a society thinks it ok to cut costs by removing nurses and care staff from care for the elderly and then say it’s not my responsibility what happens to them?

In the recent federal election policy announcements neither of the major parties had a real caring vision to make positive policy decisions on aged care, instead there were passive commitments to workforce strategies, funding to ensure the Gateway is working and making ACFI more transparent.

We need to tackle the tough issues, the ones that really matter to consumers, to the workforce and providers of care. If the Government doesn’t fund nursing care in this sector, older Australians simply won’t receive nursing care from their provider!

Not my parents, nor yours.

Well we do now have a new government and 3 years to fix this appalling situation, and I have a plan, but it will take all of us to ensure it happens. We must implement the roadmap, but we must go further.

Within the first 12 months, restore the funding that has been removed from the Aged Care Funding Instrument and if ACFI is seen not to be the tool of choice then let’s talk about a new one but we must ensure it generates revenue that affords decent care and is supported and accepted by all stakeholders.

Let’s make sure there are enough places in home care to accommodate all older people that need it by immediately removing the rationing of home care places.

Let’s make sure that all care staff are quality staff by being regulated in the same way registered and enrolled nurses are, after all you wouldn’t let an unlicensed electrician into your home to perform vital repairs on your electrical equipment but we do allow some care staff to perform some of the most intimate types of care to older Australians both in their own homes and in residential care without check and balances in place.

The ANMF view is that within 2 years legislation must be strengthened to ensure mandated minimum educational preparation, competence, skill and standards.

We must drive out dodgy training providers who lure unsuspecting students into courses of 2 weeks and then send them out with the expectation of employment to provide support & care to frail older people. And sadly given the current state of the aged care workforce – employment is often available.

And we do need a workforce strategy but it must involve us all, including Government who have the power to shift some of the levers to assist – such as changing legislation to ensure there are mandated minimum numbers of staff with appropriate skills.

We must map the current staff and skill available in the sector and match that to what we know we will need over coming years. This is urgent and we must start immediately if we are to actively implement a plan that recruits, educates and retains workers in the sector.

There is a famous quote and it goes: IF YOU CAN DREAM IT, YOU CAN DO IT. Well this is my dream – a 3 point plan:

By the end of this term of Government, if they actually care about older people, we should have in place

  1. a sustainable funding model that includes additional Government funding that is targeted to care
  2. a workforce plan for now and the future
  3. Consumers of care and their families should be guaranteed that all care staff are well educated and skilled to provide support & care and that there are sufficient numbers of staff so that no one has to be hurried through a shower or wait to use the bathroom.

The time is right the sector has been ready for some time to pull together with Government for the sake of older Australians.

It won’t be simple but it is essential.

Thank you.

1 Ansell Strategic, Case study Mr B.