Workforce, workforce, workforce: The biggest issue in aged care

By APNA General Manager  Mitch Wall

Source: APNA Primary Times Summer 2022-23 (Volume 22, Issue 2)


In October 2022, the inaugural Aged & Community Care Providers Association (ACCPA)1 Conference was held in Adelaide. Approximately 1800 delegates, including APNA representatives, were in attendance. And the topic on everybody’s lips – workforce.  

There’s a tidal wave coming and it’s not a mountain of water, it’s Australia’s aging population with a glut of baby boomers getting older by the day.  

Around 50% of the baby boomer generation has now turned 70, and the last of the baby boomer cohort will turn 60 in 2024. This demographic shift will place significant demand on the health system for the next 20 years, which means Australia needs an effective aged-care system, and we need it now.  

At the ACCPA Conference, the providers of Australia’s aged care services discussed the workforce crisis, but few real, effective, scalable solutions were presented.  

The Committee for Economic Development of Australia (CEDA) presented the stark reality of the workforce issue, which they highlighted in their 2022 report Duty of care: Aged Care Sector in Crisis.2 The report outlined that there is a shortfall of 35,000 workers (including nurses) in the sector. With the now legislated recommended increase in minimum staff time per resident per day (from 180 to 200 minutes) and continuing along the current workforce growth and needs trajectory, by 2050 it is predicted that Australia will have a shortfall of more than 400,000 workers just to meet the Royal Commission’s proposed minimum standard. 

When we look at what this means for nursing, it’s clear that Australia’s aged-care nurses will continue to be vital to meeting the needs of Australia’s aged-care sector.  

The APNA Workforce Survey tells us that aged-care nurses are experienced.3 On average, enrolled nurses (ENs) have 15.4 years’ experience as a nurse and 12.3 years of experience in primary health care (PHC)/aged care. On average, registered nurses (RNs) have 19.8 years’ experience as a nurse, of which 13.6 years was spent in PHC/aged care.  

The top 5 daily activities of an aged-care nurse are: 

  • Infection control 
  • Administering medication/injections 
  • Wound management 
  • Liaising with local health services  
  • Pain management. 

On average, RNs are paid slightly more in aged care than nurses in other PHC settings; however, this is because they tend to be promoted into management roles or are expected to perform management duties on top of their clinical roles. ENs working in aged care earn approximately $1.20 an hour less on average, compared to ENs working in other PHC settings.  

In the most recent APNA Workforce Survey, 46% of aged-care nurses reported that they are ‘never’ or ‘rarely’ used to their full scope of practice. 

Recognising these challenges, APNA has been working with a number of aged-care providers to support their nurses through APNA membership, which provides ongoing assistance. 

APNA has also been investing in resources for aged-care nurses, including the recently launched Foundations of Aged Care Workbook.4 We also run a Transition to Practice Program to support newly graduated nurses and nurses who are new to aged care throughout their first year. The program has a high retention rate, proving that a supported transition is the key to retention. 

The APNA membership allows nurses access to immediate support in their day-to-day roles as well as assisting them in developing and growing their professional development pathways within Calvary.

APNA has also launched the Student Nurse Placement Program, which has so far placed nursing students in aged-care settings in five states. This program is continuing to grow and will be vital to providing the experience of aged care to student nurses before they choose the area of nursing they will move into following graduation.  

APNA’s work with aged-care providers includes some of the largest employers in the aged-care sector, including Calvary,5 which recently signed up 900 of their RNs to an APNA corporate membership. These nurses work in Calvary’s PHC settings – aged care, community care and virtual community care. They now have access to APNA’s extensive member benefits: up-to-date education and resources; the latest industry news and guidelines; communities, expert advice and support; and career tools and additional benefits.  

Kerryn Vine-Camp, Calvary’s National Director of People and Corporate Services, reinforced that APNA membership recognises the critical role that nurses contribute to Calvary’s aged-care, home-care and telehealth settings.  

‘The APNA membership allows nurses access to immediate support in their day-to-day roles as well as assisting them in developing and growing their professional development pathways within Calvary. These nurses have given an extraordinary level of dedication to supporting our residents and clients, including under unprecedented circumstances during COVID-19, and we are delighted to help acknowledge and support them with this APNA membership.’ 

APNA President Karen Booth believes that investing in developing the nursing workforce will help deliver a healthier Australia through best-practice nursing: ‘When nurses feel valued, visible and respected, they grow their scope of practice, allowing them to do more and deliver better patient outcomes. Supported nurses provide better patient care.’ 

 

References 

  1. Aged & Community Care Providers Association, www.accpa.asn.au/, n.d., accessed 2 November 2022. 
  2. Committee for Economic Development of Australia (CEDA), Duty of care: aged care sector in crisis, CEDA website, 2022, accessed 2 November 2022. www.ceda.com.au 
  3. APNA, APNA Workforce Survey, APNA website, 2022, accessed 2 November 2022. www.apna.asn.au 
  4. APNA, Foundations of Aged Care Workbook, APNA website, 2022, accessed 2 November 2022. www.apna.asn.au 
  5. Calvary, www.calvarycare.org.au, n.d., accessed 2 November 2022. 

The Australian Primary Health Care Nurses Association acknowledges the Traditional Custodians of country throughout Australia and their connections to land, sea and community. We pay our respects to elders past and present and extend that respect to all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples today.


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