The Morrison government has failed to respond specifically to the findings of the recent Aged Care Royal Commission and the problem points and issues revealed from it – and the longer which that persists, especially on the findings specific to the COVID-19 pandemic, the longer the crisis over the aged care sector will go on, members of Australia’s union movement said on Tuesday.
The Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) asserted that the government – specifically aimed at Prime Minister Scott Morrison and indicted by association, Greg Hunt, the government’s health minister, and Richard Colbeck, the government’s minister for aged care – will not address shortages and shortcomings in providing responses to staffing levels, training or transparency within the aged care system.
“This Government needs to take responsibility for the years of understaffing and low wages in aged care. There have been 685 preventable deaths caused by COVID-19,” said Michele O’Neil, the ACTU’s president.
“In the midst of a crisis in aged care which has been exacerbated by a pandemic, aged care workers need more funding, and they need that funding to be tied to outcomes for staff and residents so it cuts through the bloated for-profit system.
“Yesterday, the Morrison Government opposed legislation to require aged care providers to publicly report on how they spend their revenue. Accountability for government funding is long overdue,”
O’Neil and the ACTU were responding specifically to an announcement on Monday from Hunt regarding a $132.2 million investment package which, in representing the government’s official response to the findings of the Aged Care Royal Commission as it pertains to the needs brought on by the pandemic, included a detailed breakdown of spendings on top of a $245 million funding in August.
“This investment directly addresses issues raised by the Aged Care Royal Commission and will improve and support the health and wellbeing of aged care residents most significantly impacted by COVID-19,” said Hunt upon announcing the new package of investment.
“For our aged care sector, the revised plan allows flexibility to manage individual situations in each state and territory [and] also builds on and consolidates the critical and successful work already undertaken by the Commonwealth government,” said Hunt.
Colbeck said that the current updated plan attached to the new investment was created upon conjunction with the Australian Health Protection Principal Committee’s Aged Care Advisory Group (ACAG), thereby meeting one of the Royal Commission’s aims.
“While we hope there won’t be further COVID-19 outbreaks in aged care facilities or in home care, if it does happen, key learnings will inform the future work of the ACAG and be shared with the aged care sector,” said Colbeck.
Previously, Annie Butler, the national secretary of the Australian Nursing and Midwifery Federation (ANMF), said that her union had welcomed the six basic conclusions from the Aged Care Royal Commission’s findings, but still fears that maximum protections for older Australians living in nursing homes and aged care facilities will not be met.
“Nursing homes desperately need additional nurses and care staff to provide safe, effective care outcomes for residents, not just to enable more visitors,” Butler said in October, shortly after the Royal Commission’s findings were released.
“While that is critical for the wellbeing of residents, more staff are urgently needed just to meet basic needs for residents in far too many nursing homes.
“Our members have been on the frontline during the pandemic and have witnessed how it has stretched staff and resources even further, again demonstrating the importance of having sufficient staffing levels and skills mix, to cope with intensified demands and workloads,” added Butler.
O’Neil suggested that the government utilise a quota-based system which possesses a variety of skill sets to suit the needs of a maligned aged care sector, whose shortcomings in a privatised status continue to be greatly exposed during the pandemic.
“The crisis in aged care won’t be turned around by one announcement, this government shows no commitment to the long-term change which it has been told again and again is necessary,” said O’Neil.
“We need minimum staffing levels with a mandated mix of skills on every shift in every workplace. This announcement takes us no closer to this goal.
“Mandated training requirements are urgently needed to ensure that workers and residents are safe. This announcement will do nothing to improve training,” O’Neil added.
Butler suggested that any additional funding, regardless of when it would become available, be used in a targeted budget approach in intended areas rather than a government-based value-for-money tactic would be of better use to the sector.
“We welcome the recommendation for immediate additional funding, but reiterate the need for greater transparency for any additional government funding, because aged care providers must be held accountable – and actually use the money for its intended purpose of employing additional nurses and carers for the depleted sector,” she said.
Ultimately, O’Neil languishes at the likes of Hunt and Colbeck failing to adhere to finding common ground between the Aged Care Royal Commission’s findings and the needs of the aged care sector itself.
“We have been willing to work with the Morrison government on this issue. So it is deeply regrettable that they continue to ignore the expertise of the workers in the sector,” said O’Neil.
Also by William Olson:
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