As aged care facilities continue to struggle with workforce shortages and closures due to new reforms, the Albanese government has admitted to “refining” its 24/7 mandatory nurses policy in the hopes to prevent potential shutdowns in the residential aged care sector.
As reported by The Australian, the government have awarded a $400,000 tender to the University of Wollongong for consultancy services to develop “alternative arrangements” for the 24/7 nursing requirement, including a literature review and the creation of a world-class care model for situations where a registered nurse is not available, to be completed between March 10 and October 27.
In his 2022 budget reply speech, Prime Minister Anthony Albanese promised to require all residential aged-are facilities to have a nurse rostered at all times by July 1 this year, a year ahead of the recommendation made by the aged-care royal commission.
Since then, the government has asked Robert Gordon, the man behind Labor’s funding model, to lead a review of the policy, with an interim report expected at the end of May and a final report later this year, while also seeking to “refine” the 24/7 nursing requirement exemption policy for rural and remote areas with 30 or fewer beds.
Aged-care expert Paul Sadler, who has also been contracted to offer consultation on the project, says the research aims to look “at what is best practice when you can’t get a registered nurse around the world and what alternative models could be offered up.”
Age Care Minister Anika Wells has also emphasised that they are doing their best to find the right model “that will improve the lives of older Australians.
“We are not sitting still, rather we are consulting with experts to help achieve best practice and repair the workforce shortages left by nine years of neglect. The Albanese government remains committed to 24/7 nursing to help aged-care residents receive high-quality care at all times.”
Meanwhile, Opposition health and aged-care spokesperson, Anne Ruston, has criticised Labor’s handling of the aged-care sector, accusing them of breaking an election promise and ignoring calls for looser restrictions, while also stating that Labor’s recent actions indicate a recognition of the urgent need for more support in the sector.
“For more than six months, the Coalition and the sector has been warning that aged-care home closures would be the consequence of the government’s decision to expedite staffing requirement by an entire year and impose rigid constraints on the sector,” Ruston said.
“Not only has the Aged Care Minister consistently ignored these concerns and broken a headline election promise, but now she is paying $400,000 in taxpayer funds to find a last-minute workaround.
“The Aged Care Minister has some serious questions to answer, including why she is paying a consultant to find a workaround when the royal commission, the aged-care sector, and the Coalition have been giving her the answers for months.”
News of the government’s potential update on their 24/7 policy comes just after Bupa, one of Australia’s largest providers of aged care services, called for changes to the pension system to entice retired nurses to return to work and combat the severe shortage of healthcare workers.
According to Bupa Villages & Aged Care’s managing director, Andrew Kinkade, “thousands of older Australians right now are in a base hospital, waiting for access to aged care.”
“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,” he says.
“The impact is it’s placing a strain on the broader health system.”