INTERVIEW WITH MARK LEVY, 2GB
3 July 2023
Subjects: Labor’s rushed 24/7 nurses policy, aged care workforce crisis
MARK LEVY: All aged care facilities across Australia are now required to have a registered nurse on site 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Sounds like a no brainer because older Australians deserve the best of care, but a staff shortage within the industry is making this a pipe dream. Recent data revealed less than 10% of nursing homes have enough workers to meet new staffing requirements. The study by the University of Technology Sydney crunched the numbers – they say an additional 12,520 full time direct care workers will be needed, that includes almost 6,000 registered nurses, and that's just to meet the minimum standards. Anne Ruston is the Shadow Minister for Health and Aged Care, and I'm pleased to say she is on the line with me now. Anne, good morning to you.
SENATOR RUSTON: Good morning, Mark.
LEVY: Well, our older Australians deserve the best of care, we all know that. 24/7 nurses will help provide that. It's a good idea, but the industry simply doesn't have enough staff.
SENATOR RUSTON: Well, that's the point. I mean, you can legislate for whatever you like, but if it can't be delivered, it's a pretty pointless exercise. We've been calling out the Government to say, you know, you've got a workforce crisis here, and with all the best of intentions about providing the absolute level of care older Australians deserve, you have to do something about the challenge before you and that’s workforce. And there seems to be no urgency at all to deal with the workforce challenges and now we find aged care homes, as of this weekend, are now technically in breach of the law if they don't have a nurse onsite 24/7. So, we're really, really worried about the legal risk that provides to aged care providers, at a time when they're under enormous stress with the rising costs of health and aged care. So, it's a pretty dire situation this Government has put aged care providers in.
LEVY: Recent data found fewer than 10% of homes have enough care workers to meet these new requirements. I note some facilities will be granted a 12-month exemption – they'll have to apply for this. Do we know what will qualify for that exemption?
SENATOR RUSTON: Only nursing homes that are in what they refer to as ‘MMM 5 to 7’, which is pretty remote - so they're a long, long way from the city - and have got less than 30 beds. So, the exemption is going to apply to such a small number of nursing homes. The overwhelming majority of Australia’s nursing homes will not be eligible for an exemption.
LEVY: Alright. A study by the University of Technology Sydney recently looked further into this, and the numbers are worrying. They say an additional 12,520 full time direct care workers will be needed to fulfil the target – that includes almost 6000 registered nurses – that's just to make minimum standards.
SENATOR RUSTON: Well, indeed. And so, the standards that are being put in place this year, which are in the case of 24/7 nurses a whole year earlier than the Royal Commission recommended, we need to remember. But at the same time, there are increased levels of care that are coming into place next year. So, we haven't even met the minimum requirements for this year and we're not even talking about what's likely to happen next year. So, I think it's a case where we need to be more flexible. We need to be talking to the sector about ways that they can deliver the kind of care, as you rightly pointed out in your introduction, that older Australians deserve. But at the same time, recognising if you haven't got the staff, you actually have to be a little bit more innovative about how you provide that level of support and care that we know we want for older Australians.
LEVY: Well, it's not the only change coming into effect as well. I mean from October 1, homes must provide 200 minutes of direct care per day for each resident. There's no way there are enough staff to meet that sort of demand. Are those targets an empty promise and how do you regulate something like that?
SENATOR RUSTON: Well, what we have to do is we have to recognise the circumstances that are out there on the ground in front of us right now. When the Royal Commission made its recommendations around these care minutes and of course 24/7 nurses, it wasn't with the workforce crisis that we've got now, because it was prior to Covid. And so, what we've got to do is to recognise the situation as it is today and we've got to work with what is before us. And the most important thing that we should be doing at the moment is looking to try and work out how we can encourage more people into the care profession, to make sure that we have got the staff to be able to provide the level of care we're talking about. But there's no point in demanding and legislating for something if you can't actually provide it – because all that does is put a huge amount of pressure and stress on aged care providers at a time when they should be focusing on delivering care to the older Australians they are looking after, instead of worrying about their financial viability and whether the regulator is going to be coming in tomorrow to, you know, come down heavily on them because they haven't met the legal requirements that the Government has forced on them.
LEVY: Ms Ruston, I'm going to play devil's advocate here for a second. I know what the Albanese Government will say in response to this interview. They'll say, well Mark, the Coalition had an opportunity to fix this and did nothing about it. What would be your response?
SENATOR RUSTON: Well, certainly, we knew that we had some real challenges in the aged care sector. We put $19.1 billion as a down payment towards implementing the Royal Commission's recommendations, but we have to recognise the change in circumstances. COVID had a major, major impact on our aged care sector and I think what we are seeing at the moment is the Government taking a one-size-fits-all, city-centric approach to trying to fix this, instead of recognising that there are different circumstances right across Australia, particularly in rural and regional Australia. We're actually having an aged care summit in Mildura on Thursday to talk to rural, regional and remote providers about the unique challenges that face them. So I think what I’d say is - we recognised that there would be challenges in aged care, we were working towards fixing them, but we certainly we’re being flexible and understanding that not every community, not every nursing home, not every area of Australia is the same, and you have to be flexible if you are going to deliver the kind of care that older Australians want and deserve.
LEVY: All right. Well, I really appreciate you jumping on the line for a chat on this Monday morning. Our elderly Australians deserve the best of care and let's hope that things change in this aged care sector because, for too long, I think elderly Australians have been let down by the providers and the lack of support for staff and everything else. So, I appreciate your time and the chat this morning.
SENATOR RUSTON: Thanks Mark. Thanks for having me.