Following the recent federal election, a new aged care minister has been appointed in Australia and aged care lobby groups are voicing calls for what they see as the top priority areas for reform. Paul Sadler, CEO, Aged and Community Services Australia, says workforce shortages need to be urgently addressed and that boards and directors need to be aware of new aged care standards on the way and a new Aged Care Act coming into effect in 2023.

    The new government needs to urgently address critical workforce shortages in aged care which have plunged the sector into crisis, says Paul Sadler, CEO, Aged and Community Services Australia (ACSA).

    With pressures on the aged care workforce, Australia needs to attract more staff from overseas and prioritise visa entry, he says. The pandemic closed international borders for two and a half years and that had a significant impact on the availability of workers in the sector.

    “In the short to medium term, it will be really important that there are appropriate mechanisms for visas to be prioritised towards aged care workers,” he told the AICD in an interview.

    What ACSA and other aged care bodies have been saying to government is they need to attract aged care workers - registered nurses and also personal care workers from overseas to plug the gaps in the aged care workforce, he added.

    “We want to attract and retain people who live in Australia at the moment into aged care and that's where making sure that there's a proper remuneration for aged care workers will become really important.”

    ACSA is calling for an improvement in the wages of sector staff and for better staffing levels. “We've been saying to government we need some short-term relief. Sixty per cent of aged care homes in Australia are currently in deficit. And when you get out into regional and remote Australia, that goes up to two thirds of all aged care homes that are struggling financially.”

    A Fair Work Commission case is underway to look at the work value of aged care workers.” I appeared recently at that Fair Work Commission case on behalf of the employers. And what we are saying to government is you will need to fully fund the outcome of the Fair Work Commission case.” A new funding model for allied health professionals is also needed.

    New Aged Care Act

    A new Aged Care Act will also come into effect in 2023. It is being developed as one of the major responses to the Aged Care Royal Commission and will enact many of the aspects of the five pillars of the government's response to the Aged Care Royal Commission.

    The first pillar was home care, the second residential care sustainability. The third residential care, quality and safety, the fourth workforce and the fifth governance. “So they have identified a range of projects which they've started implementing around each of those five pillars,” said Sadler.

    “We don't know in detail what will be in the new Aged Care Act yet. So there's a consultation period that we're likely to see late this year or early in 2023 about details of what is proposed.

    “So I'd be urging all directors of aged care boards to keep a close eye on what the government releases about terms and the conditions that are likely to apply to aged care services in receipt of funding through a new Aged Care Act,” he added.

    Also as part of the Aged Care Royal Commission, the government committed to revise aged care standards and will set in place a new set of aged care standards, to be introduced in 2023-24.

    “Boards and directors across the country need to know if they're on aged care boards that they need to understand what the reform agenda of the government is. From the point of view of the aged care sector, the response to the Royal Commission was comprehensive.

    There was $19 billion made available by the coalition government to support the implementation of recommendations. “So you've had those five pillars of work that's happening, including a very important pillar five on governance.”

    The new aged care minister in Australia is Anika Wells. She has outlined her priorities and plans for the sector, including facilitating the migration of overseas aged care workers to address skill shortages.

    With international borders now open, she says she will work with the minister for immigration, citizenship and multicultural affairs to develop policies to address projected increased demand for labour and staff shortages.

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