Staffing levels in Commonwealth-subsidised residential aged care homes

Page last updated: 08 May 2018

The Australian Government is committed to the quality of care of older Australians and considers the health, safety and welfare of aged care recipients a high priority.

Residential aged care providers are legally required to meet the Accreditation Standards (the Standards) to ensure quality care and services are provided to all care recipients.

The Australian Aged Care Quality Agency (Quality Agency) assesses and monitors the performance of residential aged care services against these Standards, including through re-accreditation audits (which will become unannounced from 1 July 2018). More information about unannounced re-accreditation can be found on the Department of Health’s website. While assessing an aged care home the Quality Agency surveyors observe care practices and interview staff and at least 10 per cent of care recipients and/or their representatives. Information from these processes informs decisions about whether quality standards have been met, including human resource management.

All Commonwealth-subsidised aged care homes are required to have adequate numbers of appropriately skilled staff to meet individual care recipients’ needs. There is however, no Commonwealth legislation that prescribes minimum numbers of staff on duty at any given time.

This is because there is no single optimum number of staff, or combination of staff qualifications, that will result in quality aged care in all circumstances. Rather, the number of staff required to look after care recipients will change according to the varying needs of those individuals, the facility size and design, and the way work is organised including the extent to which services are outsourced. It is the responsibility of individual aged care homes to use Government subsidies to ensure they have the staffing mix and numbers they require for their care recipients to receive high quality care.

Opinions presented at the Senate Community Affairs References Committee Inquiry into the Future of Australia’s aged care sector workforce in 2016 were mixed regarding the merits of staff ratios. A number of submitters were not supportive of mandating staffing ratios, mostly because they considered it would not resolve issues and would impose unnecessary regulatory burden. Additionally, worldwide research regarding mandated staffing ratios is inconclusive in the relationship to quality care and resident outcomes.

If, at any time, anyone is concerned that the care of any care recipient is being compromised they are encouraged to discuss their concerns directly with the aged care provider. People can also access the Australia-wide Older Persons Advocacy Network (OPAN) to support them to effectively access and interact with providers and have their rights protected. Information about OPAN can be found on its website.

The Aged Care Complaints Commissioner also provides a free service for people to raise concerns about the quality of care or services. There are strict confidentiality and anonymity provisions within aged care legislation that ensures people who request confidentiality are protected from having their identity disclosed. The Complaints Commissioner can be contacted on 1800 550 552 (free call) or by visiting the website.

The Australian Government is the principal funder of aged care, providing estimated funding of $18.6 billion in 2017-18. Rather than reducing funding, Government spending on aged care will continue to grow and is expected to reach over $22 billion by 2020-21.

In the 2017-18 Budget, the Australian Government committed funding of $1.92 million to establish an industry-led taskforce to develop an aged care workforce strategy. Professor John Pollaers was appointed to Chair the Taskforce.

The Taskforce has undertaken wide consultation and engagement with a full range of stakeholders and interested groups, including the perspectives of staff, consumers and their families.

The Taskforce has identified five strategic imperatives. The Taskforce is due to submit the Strategy to the Minister for Aged Care, the Hon Ken Wyatt AM, MP, by 30 June 2018. Information about the Taskforce is available from the Department's website.

Also allocated in the 2017-18 Budget was funding of $33 million over three years to existing service providers in the aged care and disability sector to grow their workforce under the Boosting the Local Care Workforce Program. More information can be found on the Department’s website.

Additionally, the Government is always looking at ways to improve the regulation of aged care and will establish a new national independent Aged Care Quality and Safety Commission. Information about the Commission can be found on the Department’s website. The new Commission will be a responsive, one-stop shop to prevent failures, highlight quality concerns and have them quickly rectified. Additional reforms include increased transparency through a publicly available performance rating of aged care providers against quality standards.

As part of aged care reforms, the Government is developing a Single Aged Care Quality Framework. The single quality framework will increase the focus on quality outcomes for consumers.