Aged Care Aged Care

Federal budget largely welcomed, but challenges remain

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The Australian federal Budget has allocated $12.4 billion to the aged care sector and is expected to help aged care providers meet increased care requirements and have a Registered Nurse on duty 24/7.

The Aged & Community Care Providers Association (ACCPA) CEO Tom Symondson noted that the measures, including a 15% pay increase for more than 250,000 aged care workers in residential aged care and home care from 1 July 2023, will help to ease the immediate financial and workforce pressures being experienced by aged care providers. “We have been dealing with a critical shortage of workers which has put enormous pressure on services,” Symondson said.

The funding commitments are expected to help support aged care providers to meet the requirements for increased care minutes and having a Registered Nurse on duty 24/7, so older people will receive the quality care they need.

Indexation increases, intended to cover the increase in costs to providers caused by inflation, are also welcome, Symondson said. The total indexation is set to increase by 5.7%, more than triple last year’s indexation figure, which ACCPA has been advocating for. However, Symondson noted that the funding still doesn’t match CPI, which will have an impact on aged care provider sustainability. He also called for clarity regarding funding for the annual wage review increase.

“That’s why we welcome the government’s commitment to fund the establishment of the Aged Care Sustainability Taskforce to provide advice on a sustainable aged care system,” Symondson said.

ACCPA has been calling for a national conversation about the sustainability of the sector, ensuring that the funding required to provide quality aged care services is available. This includes the potential for consumer contributions from those who can afford to pay more.

Symondson also noted that more than 70% of residential aged care providers are consistently operating at a loss with no end in sight to the funding dilemma. The ACCPA has been advocating for a sustainable funding model to ensure that older Australians receive the quality care they need.

In relation to home care packages, the Government released 9,500 additional home care packages for 2023/24. The increase is intended to offset the temporary changes to the residential aged care provision ratio from 78.0 places per 1,000 people over the age of 70 to 60.1 places.

The Government will also postpone the commencement of the Support at Home Program by 12 months to 1 July 2025, in response to advocacy that it wouldn’t be ready in time.

Symondson said the decision to exempt international students working in aged care from the working hours limit for six months until 31 December 2023 was welcome and was sought by ACCPA.

“Lastly, ACCPA notes that the Government will provide $309.9 million over five years to continue implementation of the Royal Commission recommendations, including the new Aged Care Act,” he said.

ACCPA looks forward to continuing to work with the government on the once-in-a-generation aged care reform now underway, but Symondson stressed that the impact and pace of that reform on a sector that has had more than a decade of reduced funding needs to be carefully considered.

“Through these reforms we want to ensure that older people living either at home, in the community or in an aged care home receive the highest quality of care and support. It’s what they deserve,” he said.

The Aged Care Workforce Industry Council (ACWIC) has also praised the Commonwealth Government’s ongoing and significant investment in the aged care workforce, which is “a once-in-a-generation change that will assist the aged care sector to become more sustainable.”

ACWIC Deputy Chair Graeme Prior said older people deserve high-quality, holistic care, and this requires aged care workers to have time to create relationships and understand the needs of each individual. “This can only happen if we support our workforce.”

“Aged care workers are vital to the functioning of our communities – just like doctors, teachers and firefighters. They should receive a higher proportion of the nation’s GDP for the contributions they make to society.

“The solution is more than simply increasing wages. We must improve career pathways and equip workers with the rights skills and qualifications to help them do their jobs. We must help people see that aged care can be a rewarding career with viable and attractive options for career progression.

Prior also welcomed the delayed commencement of the Support at Home program and the establishment of a new Aged Care Taskforce, saying this will allow time for the sector and aged care workers to prepare for and accommodate this significant reform.

“There’s no silver bullet to solve the labour shortage the aged care sector and the nation more broadly are experiencing. Much reform work remains ahead of us to ensure that the aged care workforce is suitably skilled and able to deliver safe, consistent, and high-quality care services to older Australians.

“We are at the beginning of a tectonic shift in Australian society. As a big-hearted country, we must all continue to work together to tackle the looming challenges of our ageing population so we can care for them as much as they cared for us,” Prior said.

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