A major question, as the population ages and the demand for home care packages and residential aged care places accelerates, is who will fill the necessary staffing places to meet this demand?
In the UK in 2016 there was a 9 per cent vacancy in aged care staffing and a reliance on agency staff, many of whom were Europeans. Post-Brexit, many Europeans have been leaving the UK. This had led to a rash of nursing home closures as the staffing issues became more critical.
In Australia, the Department of Health released its Aged Care Workforce 2016 report based on research undertaken by the National Institute of Labour Studies. The report was based on a series of surveys of care providers, and the results extrapolated from the 76% of Aged care provider respondents and 42% of home care provider respondents.
The findings indicated that there were more than 235,000 direct workers in residential aged care and over 135,000 workers in home care. The Productivity Commission has estimated that the aged care workforce needs to be around 980,000 workers by 2050, two-and-a-half times larger than it is now.
The aged care workforce remains predominantly female, older, and in good health. It is a well-qualified and trained workforce. Overall the direct care workforce is relatively stable, and whereas the residential workforce is getting younger the home care workforce is getting older.
Residential care increasingly depends on personal care attendants, despite an increase in registered nurses and nurse practitioners being employed. In home care community care workers provide the bulk of the care.
Priority areas identified for future training included dementia, palliative care and (in home care and home support) mental health, as few care managers in aged care facilities had these specialist qualifications. The incidence of skill shortages has declined since 2012, particularly in residential facilities. Shortages are more prevalent outside major cities, and vacancies are harder to fill in remote and very remote areas, especially for registered nurses in aged care facilities.
What we don’t know yet is the likely impact that the reduction in government funding for aged care facilities will have on the staffing mix in those facilities, but the worry is that more dependence will be placed on personal care attendants and less on registered nurses and nurse practitioners as providers struggle to keep costs under control.