Not For Profit: Avoiding an aged care crisis

30/07/2008 - 22:00

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The state's aged care sector has echoed calls by the Australian Council of Trade Unions for urgent action to avoid a work-care collision as the nation's population ages.

The state's aged care sector has echoed calls by the Australian Council of Trade Unions for urgent action to avoid a work-care collision as the nation's population ages.

ACTU president Sharan Burrow said that, without more paid carers, Australia would lose a labour supply of skilled and experienced workers in the prime of their careers who will be forced to leave work to care for relatives.

She said families of elderly and disabled people were already "feeling the crunch of the clash between work and family" and that the situation would worsen over the next few decades because of Australia's ageing population.

A 2003 Australian Bureau of Statistics survey found there were 2.5 million carers in Australia, including more than 470,000 primary carers (people who provide the most care to a person needing support).

The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare anticipates there will be more than 600,000 primary carers by 2013, with 70 per cent likely to be women.

Claremont-based residential aged care service The Bethanie Group says the health care sector needs to become more dynamic and vibrant to attract new and younger workers.

The group's chief executive, Wayne Belcher, told WA Business News the difficulties associated with the provision of adequate residential care would be exacerbated by increasing housing costs and a lack of qualified staff.

"We've slipped behind in our care and now there's the added complexity of how to meet staffing requirements in an under employed environment which has to impact on the quality of services," he told WA Business News.

Mr Belcher said major decisions and sacrifices had to be made by the current government in order to tackle the inevitable economic implications and healthcare hardships in the future.

"Of the number of people needing aged care, about 90 per cent still live in their own home at any one time and most of them are happy or content," he said.

"Residential care applies to about 10 per cent of people over 65 and once they're in the system they remain constant; I mean, very few ever really get any better.

"As the population increases and a large number of people in the population get older, there won't be enough services to cope, because although only 10 per cent will be using the services, more and more will fit into that age bracket and demographic. And I'm not sure we've got our head around that yet."

According to the ABS, population ageing is occurring on a global scale, with faster ageing projected for the coming decades than has occurred in the past.

Between 1950 and 2000, the median age of the world's population rose from 23.6 to 26.4 years. From 2000 to 2050, the median age is projected to reach 36.8 years, with Australia's median age projected at 46.7 years.

The Bethanie Group, formerly known as Churches of Christ Homes and Community Services, was established in 1954 and delivers aged care services either in clients' homes or community day facilities.

With an annual turnover reaching $120 million, the group provides assistance to almost 4,000 elderly people, through a workforce of 1,500 and more than 500 volunteers.

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