In the wake of the forced closure of several aged care homes, Bupa, one of Australia’s largest providers of aged care services, has urged the Albanese government to modify the pension system to entice retired nurses to return to work and alleviate the severe shortage of healthcare workers.
The aged care sector is struggling to meet the new government regulations that require registered nurses to be employed around the clock in all nursing homes, exacerbating the shortage of nurses in the country.
This has increased pressure on the sector, where nurse salaries are typically 25 per cent lower than those in hospitals.
The situation has become so dire that Bupa Villages & Aged Care’s managing director, Andrew Kinkade, revealed that the company has had to turn away residents from some of its regional facilities due to insufficient staffing.
“Thousands of older Australians right now are in a base hospital, waiting for access to aged care,” Kinkade tells The Australian.
“The aged care is there and has room available, but doesn’t have the workforce. And so we’ve had homes and we were aware of other organisations that we work closely with in regional Australia where we’ve been declining new residents and families because we haven’t had the workforce.
“The impact is it’s placing a strain on the broader health system.”
According to Kinkade, Australia could learn from the examples of New Zealand and Canada in addressing the nursing shortage.
In particular, he suggests that one immediate step the government could take is to increase workforce participation among individuals aged 65 and over.
He notes that in New Zealand, there are ten times more pensioners working than in Australia, and attributes this to changes in the pension and tax system that encourage such employment.
Kinkade’s comment follows that of Aged Care Minister Anika Wells who deemed the former government’s funding commitment to aged care as insufficient while discussing the current $4.8 billion commitment to aged care.
Wells claims that “properly funding our aged care sector comes at a price – with costs to increase in the budget by 23 per cent in the 2022-2023 financial year.”
“Aged care has been plagued by a decade of inadequate funding which, in addition to the impact of the pandemic, has led to compounded cost pressures,” Wells said.
Amid various financial pressures, Treasurer Jim Chalmers has stated that the Albanese government remains committed to ambitious and sustainable reform of the aged care sector in the long term.
He acknowledged the numerous challenges faced by the budget, including the cost of Liberal debt, the NDIS, healthcare, and national security, and emphasised the need for responsible and targeted action within the budget’s constraints.
Chalmers vowed to assist Australians in a “methodical, affordable, and responsible way”.
While Bupa appreciates the federal government’s pledge to enhance the workforce, it cautioned that despite substantial investment, it would take years to resolve current staff shortages.
“As a sector, we continue to experience severe workforce pressures, especially in regional Australia,” a Bupa spokesperson previously told The Guardian.
“Increasingly, this means many older Australians may not be able to access residential care when they need it.”