Aged care reform blasted as government tallies the money spent

One year after the chilling final report from the aged care royal commission was tabled, there are starkly contrasting views on the progress made.

The Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety report was tabled on 1 March 2021. It made 148 recommendations and at that time, health and aged care minister Greg Hunt said the government would provide $452.2 million to “address priorities in the sector”.  The government allocated $17.7 billion in the 2021-22 Budget, to be spent over five years “to ensure senior Australians receive the care, respect and dignity they deserve”.

This week, the federal government said it had “achieved significant reform” and Mr Hunt said funding had now reached more than $18.3 billion.

He said the government’s initiatives included an extra 30,000 training places for aged care workers, 115 scholarships for nurses working in aged care, an aged care bonus payment and a 25 per cent increase in home care packages.

Read: ADF called in to save aged care sector ‘in crisis’

However, those on the ground say there is not enough focus on the day-to-day challenges of working in aged care and that pay is a sticking point.

Australian Nursing and Midwifery Federation federal secretary Annie Butler told a protest outside federal parliament that nurses and aged care staff were “fed up” with the government.

“Our aged care workers and nurses are holding the system together as best they can, but they have got virtually nothing left,” she said.

“This is a crisis that should never have happened.

“The government’s own royal commission reports – that I can barely lift because of their depth – are all ignored.

“No more talking, no more task forces, no more inquiries, no more deferring responsibility – only action.”

Read: Care workers’ bonus, vaccination program blasted

The Older Persons Advocacy Network (OPAN) said that while there had been progress, the government needed to ramp up its efforts. It was another that identified pay as a critical issue.

Chief executive Craig Gear said support for aged care workers was crucial to any reforms.

“It’s imperative we provide greater recognition of, and more appropriate pay for, the aged care workforce,” he said.

He added that more transparency was needed around funding and staffing levels.

The Australian Aged Care Collaboration (AACC), which represents six aged care peak bodies, said it welcomed this week’s funding announcement but that after so many years of underfunding, the money fell short of what was needed.

“The royal commission’s workforce recommendations are the key area of unfinished business,” the organisation said in a press release.

“Aged care workers have gone above and beyond to deliver care. They should be getting the pay they deserve and career certainty.”

Read: Older Australians fears about COVID are ‘perfectly reasonable’

The AACC wants a workforce partnership supplement that providers can spend on training, more minutes of care, 24-hour nursing, COVID prevention measures, workforce retention and a minimum wage rise for aged care workers.

“Without immediate changes to better support the workforce, the aged care sector won’t be able to recover from the current crisis,” AACC said.

“It’s time to make sure older Australians get the care they deserve, once and for all.”

The government is also providing an extra $10 per resident per day to improve services and nutrition – handing over $460 million to about 2700 homes. However that initiative has come under fire as the government has refused to release reports into how the money is being spent.

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Written by Jan Fisher