The link between the provision of quality care and having the right balance of skills, including both nursing and care staff should not need to be spelt out. It is fundamental to ensure all residents of aged care facilities have timely access to the appropriate care required and are treated with the dignity and respect they deserve and are entitled to. One of the key planks of the Because We Care campaign – having sufficient staff with appropriate skills, qualifications and experience – continues to be a priority for the ANF now and in the future.
The recently released Aged Care Workforce Report 2012 provides a comprehensive picture of the number, occupations and employment characteristics of the current aged care workforce and compares it to previous surveys collecting similar information in 2003 and 2007. The report shows a significant shift in the numbers and composition of direct care staff confirming a trend identified in the 2007 report. Of all the occupations classified as direct care staff, the only one to be increasing is the personal care assistants or assistants in nursing (PCAs/AINs). Currently PCAs/AINs make up 68.2% of direct care staff, up from 64.1% in 2007. On the other hand, registered nurses (RNs) make up only 14.7% of direct care staff, down from 16.8% in 2007 and 21.4% in 2003. Enrolled nurses comprise 11.6% of direct care staff, down slightly from 12.5% in 2007 and 14.4% in 2003.
There are now 2,326 fewer full time equivalent RNs working in residential aged care than there were in 2003. While over the same period, there has been a 22% increase in the number of aged care places and the dependency levels of aged care residents has continued to increase with 76% of residents assessed as high care as at June 2011.
Not surprisingly, nursing and care staff report feeling under pressure and stressed, which the authors describe as a long term phenomenon in aged care. Staff were asked to respond to a series of statements about their work on a scale of one (totally disagree) to seven (totally agree). In response to the question concerning whether there was enough time to care, nurses and PCAs/AINs recorded the lowest average score (3.7%), indicating that many do not think they have enough time to provide care. In interviews conducted with direct care workers, over half identified working conditions (low pay, understaffing and time constraints) as the most challenging aspect of their work and were a source of stress. While the ‘Compact’ is a good start to address the low wages paid in this sector it is by no means the only issue and we still have a way to go to ensure nursing and care staff can provide the best quality care and in return receive fair and equitable wages and conditions as well as proper recognition for the valuable work they perform.
To access the Aged Care Workforce Compact, visit: www.health.gov.au/internet/main/publishing.nsf/Content/ageing-natagedcare-workforce-census-survey/$File/D1010-NACWCAS-Report-Revised.pdf
Federal Research Industrial Officer
King, D., Mavromaras, K., He, B, Healy, J., Macaitis, K.,Moskos, M., Smith, L. and Wei, Z. 2012. The Aged Care Workforce 2012. Australian Government Department of Health and Ageing: Canberra.