Aged care in crisis as sector loses 1000 beds in six months due to staffing issues

The aged care sector is in crisis with 1000 beds being closed in the past six months alone due to severe staffing shortages.

It comes after a new report raised concerns the increasing costs of owning a home will see Kiwis miss out on access to adequate aged care facilities. 

According to a report commissioned by Aged Care Matters, most people finance facilities by selling their homes but the current reduction in homeownership rates is posing a massive threat, especially to older kiwis living in the West Coast, Northland, Whanganui and Tairawhiti, where there is a growing ageing population.

More than 60 percent of the population is aged over 85 in those areas and are categorised as deprived. The report said they will suffer worse inequalities in the coming decades with nowhere near enough dementia beds in some areas. 

To add insult to injury Aged Care Matters spokesperson Jeremy Nicoll said severe staffing shortages have seen 1000 beds lost in the past six months alone. 

Nicoll said underfunding means the sector can't offer nurses competitive salaries and as a result services are being forced to reduce capacity, leaving some vulnerable Kiwis stuck at home being cared for by relatives. 

"The Government has not been funding the sector to the level we would expect. Every year we go through a price review with the Government. This year in their initial offer they agreed to help pay people with the increase in the minimum wage and to provide an increase to our caregiving staff of 2.8 percent," Nicoll told AM on Monday. 

"In terms of the other cost pressures the sector faces, that's things like paying nurses a fair wage, cost inflation, cost of managing the pandemic, there was an increase of 1.2 percent to cover all those things. So what that means is there is a perennial underfunding of the sector."

He said that underfunding is having an impact. 

"We've already seen in the last six months nearly 1000 aged care beds closed because we are having staffing issues, particularly with nursing staff where they are being paid $20,000 to $25,000 more per annum to work in the public system than we are funded to pay them in the aged care sector."

Nicoll said the Government needs to ensure the sector can offer nurses adequate wages so vulnerable Kiwis can be looked after. 

He said a lot of the beds that have been lost were at the higher, hospital-level care. 

"At the moment the aged care sector itself needs about 1000 nurses and when you look at the entire health sector we are probably short by 4000 nurses in the country," he warned. 

The aged care sector is the only industry struggling to retain staff, wider healthcare, education, tourism, agriculture and hospitality are all struggling to get enough staff as the country grapples with a tight labour market and low unemployment. 

Unemployment in New Zealand dropped to its lowest level in 36 years with a rate of 3.2 percent in the fourth quarter of 2021 and again in the first quarter of this year.