Royal Commission releases research on staffing levels in aged care homes

Over half (57.6%) of Australian aged care residents are in homes in which the levels of staffing are, by international benchmarks, unacceptable. To raise the standard to an acceptable level staffing needs to be increased by 37.3% in such homes and by 20% across the sector.

These are amongst the conclusions of a research paper commissioned and published on 28 October 2019 by the Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety (the Commission) entitled How Australian Residential Aged Care Staffing Levels Compare with International and National Benchmarks which was prepared by the Centre for Health Service Development, part of the Australian Health Services Research Institute of the University of Wollongong.

Other shocking, but not surprising, statistics within the Research Paper include:

  • aged care residents currently receive on average eight minutes of allied health services, well short of the 22 minutes recommended level in British Colombia (one of the few comparable jurisdictions where this data is available); and
  • Victoria is the only Australian State where there are currently mandated ratios of nursing staff (as opposed to personal care assistants and including registered and state enrolled nurses)however 99% of Australian facilities do not meet this mandated level. To meet this level, nursing staff across the sector would need to increase by 272.3%.

In its Interim Report published on 31 October 2019, the Commission concludes that the quality of care that people receive from aged care services depends very much on the quality of the paid carers and their working conditions (Vol 1 p232). The Commission foreshadows that workforce issues including staffing levels and staff mix will, amongst other issues, be critical to its recommendations for comprehensive reform of the aged care system.

The gap identified in the research between current staffing levels and mix, and what might be considered acceptable represents a huge financial challenge to the sector as a whole, as well as to government which funds some 80% of the sector. The cost will be exacerbated by concurrent challenges of sourcing, upskilling and retaining staff to fill the gap – issues addressed in Chapter 9 of Volume 1 of the Interim Report.

As the Commission continues its work into 2020, sector participants should be lifting their sights beyond the immediate demands of responding to the Commission to identify the economic and strategic risks and opportunities that will come from fundamental sector reform and to engage appropriately with the Commission to ensure that ultimately its recommendations are informed, effective and capable of implementation.