Staffing Australia's aged-care future


By Jane Allman
Wednesday, 18 August, 2021


Staffing Australia's aged-care future

The number of Australians requiring aged care is set to double by 2050, with 3.5 million people estimated to need aged-care services by this time. This in turn means that we need a serious boost to our aged-care workforce. By 2025, 179,000 job openings are expected in aged care across the country.

With an emerging need for high-quality aged-care services, and the professionals to deliver them, there is an opportunity for higher education providers to step in and upskill Australia’s registered aged-care workforce.

Professor Jane Phillips, Head of School of Nursing at QUT, explained that aged care is not simply a niche area, but encompasses almost all aspects of adult health care.

“Older Australians often have chronic and complex conditions that need to be factored in when considering what care and supports are needed,” she said.

“Those working with older Australians need particular skills that enable them to deal with the complex needs of older patients, as well as manage the needs of their family or friends. For example, an older patient may present to the emergency department with acute confusion and agitation, so an empathetic approach is needed to comprehensively assess the situation, arrive at a diagnosis and agree on a management plan, and reassure the distressed patient and their kin.

“We need an aged-care workforce that can advocate for older Australians — who can understand where that person is coming from and intervene early, providing management and support to treat all reversible causes and to prevent that person from unnecessary deconditioning.”

As Australia’s population ages, more people will be wanting to remain in their homes for as long as possible; as such, boosting home-based care services should be factored in when considering the aged-care workforce of the future.

Professor Phillips explained that the best care for older Australians meets their needs and preferences, and allows them to receive care so that they can return to their lives and have the highest quality of life possible.

“The biggest change we can make to the aged-care sector is to bring in more Registered Nurses. Increasing Registered Nurses and making sure they have the skills, knowledge and attributes needed to care for older Australians will have a significant positive impact on aged-care outcomes and the wellbeing of older people and their families.

“Our aged-care workforce needs to have an in-depth understanding of the ageing process, the complexity of managing underlying comorbidities, the effects of cognitive impairment and mobility problems, as well as what higher-functioning older people might need to allow them to live happy and fulfilling lives.

“It is very important that aged-care professionals try to understand what might be happening and not add to the older person’s or their family’s distress. That understanding can determine how best to support the person and ensure that they do not come to harm. Understanding a person’s cognitive status under normal circumstances can help in this situation. For example, perhaps someone is being unusually aggressive because they have a urinary tract infection, so — rather than call a security guard, which may add to that person’s distress — we need to promptly identify the underlying cause, implement treatment and comfort the person, and reassure their family that the aggression ought to pass, once the underlying infection is managed.”

QUT Online has launched the Master of Gerontology, a fully online qualification developed in conjunction with Metro North Hospital and Health Service, to allow healthcare professionals to specialise and be more competitive in securing higher-level positions within the aged-care sector.

The course builds the fundamental skills needed by healthcare and aged-care professionals while challenging students to extend their leadership ability to ensure health and aged-care services continue to evolve to meet changing community needs.

The course aims to provide in-depth knowledge about how to provide holistic care to older Australians — it will challenge registered healthcare professionals to think differently about this cohort, while also supporting them along the way to build their gerontology capabilities.

Image credit: ©stock.adobe.com/au/interstid

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