Interview with Greg Jennett
ABC Afternoon Briefing
25 May 2023
Subjects: Aged care home closures, Labor’s rushed aged care requirements, the Voice
GREG JENNETT: Figures emerged earlier this week of a rash of closures of aged care homes. In total, 23 have shut their doors between September last year and February of this year. And there appears to be a link between those closures and the cost and compliance problems that homes are facing, especially since the Aged Care Royal Commission. Well, Anne Ruston is the Shadow Health and Aged Care Minister, also for Sport. She spoke to us earlier. Anne Ruston, you've been training your eye on some 23, we think it is, aged care homes that have closed since September of last year. Wouldn't this be within the normal trend of openings and closings? I think two new homes were created within the period you've examined. How do you know this is connected to the highest standards recommended by the Royal Commission?
SENATOR ANNE RUSTON: Well, we know from speaking to nursing homes right the way across the country. They are really, really concerned about their inability to be able to meet these new requirements, despite having tried really hard. And we know from the nursing homes that have closed, they've actually stated that the reasons why they are closing is their inability to be able to get access to the staff they need to meet the requirements. It's not me saying this, it's actually the sector that's saying that they're struggling.
JENNETT: And so, what is the answer? How could they be persuaded economically, financially to stay open?
RUSTON: Well, I think there are a number of things that the Government could do right now to remedy the situation that's been created by the inflexibility around these care minute requirements and 24/7 nurses. Firstly, they could actually implement the Royal Commission’s recommendation, which said this didn't need to come into place until 2024, because the Royal Commission recognised there were workforce shortages that were a concern. They could expand the exemption criteria that would say that if best endeavours had been applied to be able to get these nursing staff, and had failed, and they could demonstrate that, there could be a broader exemption process for a period of time. The other thing also is models of care. We know particularly the further you get away from metro areas, the shallower the markets are, the harder it is to get workforce. Let's actually start talking to older Australians, particularly in remote communities, about what they would like around their care.
JENNETT: The Minister has spoken about not going around knocking down doors on the relevant dates, July 1 and then again in October, when these higher standards come in. Is it possible that they are working towards exactly what you're talking about? That is a sort of soft, or softer, launch of some of these requirements, pushing out towards later dates effectively?
RUSTON: Well, if they are, they need to communicate this to the sector. The sector is in quite a state of distress at the moment. They don’t know what will happen on the first of July. We have heard some half-hearted words about the Minister telling the Commissioner not to go hard on homes that haven't met these requirements. What does that mean? The sector needs certainty. They've gone through years of COVID, which was terribly difficult. They’ve gone through massive reforms and changes. So I think, what we need to do is put certainty back into the sector so they can go back to concentrating on delivering the best possible care for older Australians, instead of constantly being in a state of distress.
JENNETT: They are the immediate pressure points and then there are longer-term things that emerge from the Budget, there’s a $2.2 billion saving – to be fair that is meant to be fully reinvested in aged care. By reducing the number of places for people per head of population, aged over 70, do you support that because it looks from a long-term planning point of view as though that's going to reduce the number of beds in residential care?
RUSTON: The biggest concern I've got - as you rightly point out, there is a $2.2 billion saving booked against the number of people and beds in residential aged care - and yet we have got government Ministers, not just the Aged Care Minister, but other Ministers in the Government, saying the number of beds in aged care is increasing. We have got a bit of a disconnect here. Obviously, we've got a demand driven system. But the big concern is that the beds will disappear if we keep on seeing nursing homes close down, as a result of them not being able to meet the reform standards that have been forced upon them despite the fact we have clearly got a workforce crisis right the way across the care sector.
JENNETT: And they're working towards new visa categories. In fact, one was publicly launched by Andrew Giles in Perth with a fairly large number against it. More than 500 workers. Why won't that meet these immediate needs? It could if they signed more of them quite quickly?
RUSTON: Right now, we know that we need in excess of 20,000 registered nurses alone. Of course, we welcome all options being put on the table about getting more workers in the care sector. The one thing we’re missing is we don't have a whole of care workforce plan or strategy, because all we are seeing is that you do one thing in one area and then you’re actually just robbing another area of their staff to try and deal with that issue. So, I think I would say to the Government - we've been calling for a national workforce or care workforce strategy - it needs to go across the entire care sector. This was really urgent, it’s been urgent for a long time, and we really haven't seen any urgency applied to it.
JENNETT: No doubt you'll be asking further questions about it in Budget Estimates. On the most tragic and unfortunate death of Clare Nowland, in the Cooma nursing home after being tasered by police, have you been able to gain any understanding of how common it is for police to enter these facilities and how appropriate it is that they be called?
RUSTON: First of all, can I just say my thoughts are with Mrs Nowland's family after her tragic passing last night. But I think the thing that, what we saw, has really highlighted the fact that we have an increasing number of older Australians who are suffering from dementia and we need to have a much better understanding about how all our frontline responders, whether it be police in situations or people who are actually looking after older Australians with dementia, we need a much better understanding about the kind of care and supports that they need. It was tragic to see what unfolded last week, but it is a very timely reminder about the importance of understanding dementia better.
JENNETT: I'm sure that will be the subject of further investigations, there are some criminal proceedings under way. Finally, wearing your sport hat Anne Ruston, former Prime Minister Scott Morrison gave his speech on the Voice to Parliament, targeting sporting codes, particularly the NRL, for their involvement. He says he won't look to them personally to guide his decision on constitutional matters. Do they have a place, these sporting codes?
RUSTON: Well, I mean, obviously any organisation is entirely entitled to their point of view on any matters of policy or public debate. I think the most important thing here to remember is, it's only an individual that walks into the ballot box to cast their vote and I'd say to every Australian, make your own mind up, find out the facts, make your decision, don’t be looking to other organisations to do that.
JENNETT: Anne Ruston, thank you so much for your time today.
RUSTON: My pleasure. Thanks, Greg.