Nursing Shortage in Aged Care Sector Needs Government Intervention

New Zealand’s aged care sector is experiencing a chronic nursing shortage and we now have a crisis situation on our hands.

Immigration laws and procedures have made recruiting nurses from overseas tougher while our local nurses are leaving residential aged care in droves to take up higher paying positions in our public hospitals.  Underpinning this is the fact that the funding model for nurses working in aged care is deeply flawed.  They earn only a pittance more than their unqualified colleagues working in the industry.

The question on everyone’s lips is, how much longer before we see some really disturbing examples of how this national nursing shortage impacts our elderly?

To keep aged care facilities operating safely and with the high levels of care that residents need these days, owners and managers are stepping up and filling the gaps.  It’s wonderful to see these fantastic and dedicated people rise up, chip in and put the care of residents ahead of their personal priorities – but they can’t do it forever.

In March this year, Stuff reported that about one in five aged care nurses are employed in New Zealand on a work visa (21 percent)1, in Aged Care it is as high as 30 percent.  As an industry, we rely on overseas workers to operate, not unlike the construction or education sectors.  At Radius Care facilities, and just like our competitors, we have many highly trained, motivated, visa-holding workers on our staff. They provide much needed and exceptional care to our residents.

I implore the New Zealand government to step up and make an immediate, positive difference to the elderly being cared for around the country.  Improve the care of our aged population by adding registered nurses to the Long-Term Skills Shortage List. This delivers a pipeline of highly skilled workers to care for our elderly and gives immigrant nurses the security they need to move with their families to New Zealand.

We also need to do whatever we can to incentivise nurses into aged care.  Residential aged care facilities simply can’t afford to match the DHB’s pay rates.  As compensation to our nurses, we have begun negotiating with various outlets and providers to offer attractive staff discounts for everything from groceries, fuel, clothing and footwear, to electronics and dining out. We’re doing our part, but we need policymakers to do their part too – and start paying these valuable and qualified people what they deserve.

The funding model for the aged care sector has not been reviewed by the government for 20 years2. This outdated model does not recognise the change in the services that facilities provide and the change in residents’ needs.

New Zealand has a fast growing aging population, no one disputes this. Within ten years, there is likely to be a 75 percent increase in demand for aged care caregivers and nurses as an estimated 20,000 more people will need residential aged care facilities. If measures are not put in place to remove the current stresses on the industry now, the situation will only worsen and our elderly will be the ones that suffer most.

[1] New Zealand Immigration

2 Central Region Technical Advisory Services Limited

About Brien Cree

Brien Cree
Brien Cree is the managing director of Radius Care, which has over 20 aged care facilities across New Zealand. With more than 20 years’ experience in the aged care and rest home property sectors, Brien has an in-depth knowledge of the market and issues affecting the elderly. As a former rest home owner/operator, Brien understands the industry in terms of acquisition, development, financing and day-to-day operational management. He genuinely cares for the elderly and the issues facing this demographic, and is passionate about providing the very best residential care services for New Zealand’s ageing population. Brien is also a board member and spokesperson for the New Zealand Aged Care Association and he frequently comments on a broad range of topics relating to his sector.