Leading Age Services Australia (LASA) CEO Sean Rooney said that Australia is facing a ‘new normal’ of older people in our society as the ‘baby boomer’ generation ages, requiring a major shift in the way we think about the aged care workforce and a holistic response.

“The Productivity Commission estimates by 2050 the aged care workforce will need to have grown to almost 1 million[1], an increase of 168 per cent,” Mr Rooney said.

“This presents the industry and the nation with a massive challenge that must be addressed holistically and strategically.”

Mr Rooney said the Government will soon be considering a wide-ranging aged care workforce strategy developed by the Aged Care Workforce Strategy Taskforce, led by Professor John Pollaers.

“This is focused on ensuring a ‘fit for purpose’ workforce for older Australians, now and into the future,” Mr Rooney said.

“Professor Pollaers’ 15 draft strategic actions help to define the likely scope of required workforce reforms including re-imagining care work and care workers, revising training and qualification requirements, defining new career pathways, improving workforce planning, and dealing with salary deficiencies and issues of attraction and retention.

“LASA strongly supports a holistic response to workforce development informed by this work. Optimal staffing models that consider the different roles within aged care, required capabilities, and initial and ongoing training, is part of this.”

Mr Rooney said that when considering aged care workforce matters rather than a focus on a single input, such as nurse to resident ratios, a better holistic and evidence-based approach is required to drive continuous improvement in aged care.

“Professor Pollaers has proposed establishing an Aged Care Industry Growth and Research Translation Centre,” Mr Rooney said.

“LASA believes that research that examines optimized models of care linked to the required outcomes under the aged care standards, should be a priority for the industry, Government and other stakeholders.

“Appropriate and sustainable funding must also follow to implement best practice models of care, noting that there have been significant cuts to residential aged care funding, whilst costs continue to increase, placing providers under increasing financial pressure.”

Mr Rooney said that new models of care and the use of new technologies will result in us working very differently in the future.

“This too will affect the number, mix and competencies of the age services workforce of the future,” Mr Rooney said.

“Notwithstanding passionate arguments for mandating staff-to-resident ratios, quality of care is not as simple as the number of staff on duty or arbitrary staffing ratios.

“The needs of people in residential aged care are highly variable and, within a stringent quality control system, a flexible staffing mix can deliver the best quality of care targeted at individual care needs.”

This view is supported by the Productivity Commission that said in March this year that, “mandatory staffing ratios are unlikely to be an efficient way to improve the quality of care in aged care (PC 2011a). The absence of ratios and nurse presence requirements within Residential Aged Care Facilities allows them to staff flexibly in response to residents’ changing needs, and gives them an incentive to invest in innovative models of care or adopt new technologies that could assist care recipients. Imposing ratios or nurse presence requirements would also be at odds with principles of good stewardship (chapter 2), which require governments to focus on outcomes for users, rather than to prescribe processes or inputs”.

Both Mr Rooney and Professor John Pollaers will address LASA’s NSW/ACT Conference in Sydney on Wednesday 8 June.

Themed ‘Disrupt, Innovate & Thrive’, the conference will discuss emerging aged care challenges and opportunities, including workforce, and encourage delegates to share their own experiences of adapting to the changing wants and needs of older Australians.

Over 300 age services professionals, leaders and specialists from across metropolitan and regional areas of Australia will attend the conference, including LASA’s NSW/ACT State Manager Brendan Moore.

To view the full Conference program please visit https://lasa.asn.au/nsw-state-conference/.

[1] Productivity Commission (2011). Caring for older Australians: Productivity Commission Inquiry Report, No. 53