Sky News Interview 20 March 2023

HOST TOM CONNELL: Minister, thanks for your time. The aged care quarterly report on aged care makes for pretty dire reading. So 805 residential providers lost $465 million for the quarter. I think only a quarter of people live in profitable homes. Is this a crisis?

MINISTER FOR AGED CARE AND SPORT, ANIKA WELLS: I have never walked away from the fact that I inherited an aged care crisis, and that's why the government made it such a pinnacle of our election campaign that we would take urgent steps to address that. So the quarterly financial reports are hugely concerning, but I also don't think they're that surprising for people that know the sector and have been pointing to this for a long time. I guess in terms of people who want hope and they want a sense that government is doing something about it this quarter is the last quarter before the new funding model commenced, on one October last year. That was the first piece of legislation that the Australian government put through both houses to start dealing with the aged care crisis. So it is our hope that the next quarterly financial report coming will give us a better sense of where things are at now that we have the AN-ACC funding model in place, acknowledging that the even that model itself is going to need to be constantly looked at and addressed to keep it up today.

CONNELL: Right. When we talk of a quarter of people living in profitable homes, which means the home sustainable product can keep existing and people will keep running it, what would you expect that to lift to in the next report with the new funding model?

MINISTER WELLS: There's the AN-ACC funding model which gave a 10% uplift to all beds in the sector. There's also the IHACPA funding coming one July, which is independent pricing authority. That again was another recommendation of the Royal Commission that will actually address real costs rather than being sort of a nominated position of government. So that's another lift that is coming for the sector. And I would also say that AN-ACC is supposed to better address the actual cost, because what it looks like to fund you if you have dementia in Rockhampton is very different to my suburban electorate of Lilley in Brisbane.

CONNELL: Right. But what's your hope of what that level will get? Because at the moment three quarters of these homes are not on a sustainable footing. If they were running like this and it kept happening, ultimately, why would you keep running them? So what level do you think they can get to? Because this is an instant change in funding, essentially. What do you think that number goes up to in terms of profitability?

MINISTER WELLS: Well, I guess the thing about those reports doesn't take into account the hotel and accommodation side of things for providers in the sector. And people have really different ways of how they fund and cross fund those issues, whether it be care, hotel accommodation. Obviously the Government has put billions and billions of dollars into care, into lifting the standards of care and things like our initiatives of 24/7 nurses and care minutes are fully funded by the government. But I think the broader point that you're making is that we have to have a conversation about the sustainability of aged care in this country and I think really it is probably the greatest unaddressed question of the Royal Commission for us to look at.

CONNELL: And is the answer is always going to be more government dollars?

MINISTER WELLS: No, I don't think that is the only option.

CONNELL: I mean people are saying it's expensive and all said providers are saying we're struggling to make a buck?

MINISTER WELLS: But not all providers are struggling to make a buck. There are plenty of very profitable providers out there. The reports that have come in say the sector is in crisis. And I would point specifically to workforce being the reason for that. And people at the moment having to pay huge costs in agency workers. That is sort of an unsustainable and spiralling cost.

CONNELL: Let's get on to workforce because there was an election promise that every aged care home would have nurses 24 hours a day by the middle of this year. Is that still going to happen?

MINISTER WELLS: Yeah we're hopeful that's going to happen at the hopeful.

CONNELL: So you are not confident?

MINISTER WELLS: I'm saying hopeful. We set that as our goal. We have funded providers to meet that goal. We know at the moment more than 80% are meeting that goal. We know that another about 9% of very close and working diligently to get there by 1 July. We also know there's probably about 5% out there, particularly that rural, remote areas that will not meet it because of the workforce shortages in rural and remote areas. And that's why from 1 April we're opening the door for people to come and talk to us about the exemptions that they'll need. And we expect probably about 5% to need exemptions, which is to say they're going to have to have some other arrangement in place to make sure that residents in their care get that care.

CONNELL: Okay, so you're hopeful of 95 rather than 100. What would the alternative be to have someone they can get on call within half an hour… what does that look like?

MINISTER WELLS: I mean a lot of those arrangements are in place as we speak because they can't get a nurse 24/7 while many of these facilities have been doing this for years because it's good clinical practise. So in some instances, I know when I was up in Rockhampton, a facility they looked after an hour north, had on call nurses who could drive in instances that they needed to so that might be an instance. I'm not going to be wearing a GoPro and kick down the front door of facilities come 1 July to say I'm shutting you down because you haven't met it. Commission will work with facilities to make them either get there or put in place adequate arrangements to make sure…

CONNELL: And if they don’t what happens?

MINISTER WELLS: 24/7 nurses is actually a supplement the federal government is paying so if you do not meet the requirement, you will not get that supplement. That's what I said when I said we're funding it in full. So I would call that more of a carrot than a stick approach. But if you don't meet it, come 1 July, you're going to need to explain yourself why you haven't been able to meet it. And if you have taken all reasonable measures to do and come to us beforehand so we would just continue to work with you.

CONNELL: So this is a safety thing, if a facility or a home is found to repeatedly to not met it, haven't taken those steps. What happens?

MINISTER WELLS: Well, that's the usual process of sanctions that the Commission runs. Probably it is the case that if you're a facility that can't meet that, it has had problems in the past, you are already well known to the Commission as a facility that needs additional support. So if you are unable to meet 24/7 come 1 July well the doors are open from 1 April for people to come to us and say, we're worried about that,

CONNELL: Here's why I can't do it… because some of them were saying we've tried for years and can't get someone.

MINISTER WELLS: That's right. And so they will be able to apply for an exemption come 1 April and they'll be known to the Commission. They'll have shown that they've done everything they can to meet it and here’s a plan that we have in place. My hope would be that come one July, when our 15% pay rise to the award kicks in, come the IHACPA funding kicking in after 1 July and some of the other levers that we're pulling to address workforce shortages over in the immigration space and some of the stuff that Jason Clare is looking at and are going to help us address workforce shortages. I can't fix a problem overnight, that has taken ten years to fester.

CONNELL: No, but there was a date to fix it. But it's not overnight. But that's the middle of the year from the Royal Commission. But what's an example? What thing is normally needed for at 3 am? What do you need that nurse on call for 24 hours?

MINISTER WELLS: Medication, wound dressing, UTIs are a problem in aged care and come up overnight. So some facilities, particularly out in the regions, have successful nurse practitioner models. And some of the things we're looking at in workforce across the board in both the health and care economies is making sure that nurses can operate to full scope like there's some good models out there of what people already do that is a little creative where they can't have a doctor in there all the time. But we need to address this because the Royal Commission asked us to, because it's a good thing to do. We also need to address this because there's bed blocking issues and hospital issues across the board.

CONNELL: Also taking the stress out of hospitals.

MINISTER WELLS: And I think it's a good thing to recognise where people are doing a great job because we want more people to think this is a place, an industry that I want to come and work.

CONNELL: Minister thanks for your time today.