Australian health and aged care professionals are being warned to prepare for staffing shortages to hit potentially their worst levels since the COVID-19 pandemic began in 2020.
The founders of Covax Australia, which supplies staff to 150 aged care facilities and hospitals across the country, say the increase in COVID-19 infections could lead to severe staffing shortages this festive season.
Dr Anuj Gupta, one of the founding partners of Covax Australia, is a practising GP who saw first-hand the effect of the virus on healthcare worker shortages.
“Last year we saw how COVID combined with the holiday season to completely cripple our healthcare system. This month alone we have already seen the number of residential aged care facilities reporting at least one staff member with COVID more than double and there are indications that trajectory is going to change this year,” said Dr Gupta.
He said aged care facilities will be worst affected.
“Registered nurses are able to earn a considerably higher hourly rate in hospitals compared to aged care,” he said.
“There needs to be a real incentive for nurses to work in aged care, especially over the holiday period.”
Dr Gupta and his co-founder Mannu Kala are calling on state and federal governments to do more to prepare now for what could be a crisis.
“One thing we’ve learnt from the pandemic is that being on the backfoot is the worst way to deal with staff shortages,” said Mr Kala.
“At its very worst, it leads to neglect and death which is something we have seen more than enough of over the last couple of years.”
The Covax co-founders are also urging aged care facilities to bolster hourly rates through the holiday period to ensure staff levels are maintained and they want the Federal Government to consider changes to fast-track visas to bring in overseas workers from next year.
“There are simply not enough aged care workers in Australia to fill 17,000 positions needed every year for the next decade from within the country,” continued Mr Kala said.
“We need to look overseas and we need to do it fast. The aged care shortage is not confined to Australia and, unless we act quickly, we’ll lose those skilled workers to the UK and Canada who are also dealing with this crisis.”