Training the Carers -The Era of the Hybrid PCA is dawning

Australia’s population is aging. That’s going to put a huge strain on resources and create an increasing demand for staff to care for the elderly. An estimated 32,000 new aged care jobs will be needed over the next five years. That’s over 120 new jobs a week. But the problem is that there is severe shortage of registered nurses in aged care. According to a 2012 report the proportion of registered nurses is less than 15 per cent. Personal care assistants are filling the hole, making up 62% of the workforce. They are having to cover the bulk of the caring duties but are they up to the job?

Don’t get me wrong, I’ve been fortunate to work with many talented and devoted care staff. But are they that way because of their training, or despite it? There is a lot of acknowledgement both within the industry and by the government that Personal Care Assistants are too often under-skilled and task orientated. It seems that our methods of selection and training are failing both carers and residents. Is the system fit for purpose?

Industry change needs to start at an educational level. The current training is inadequate. Instead we need courses that develop technical knowledge, practical skills and an insight into the physical, emotional and mental health of elderly residents.

I believe it’s time to review and change our Certificate IV in Aged Care for PCA staff. In order to respond to the increasing needs, we need a workforce that can care efficiently and with compassion. That means identifying people who have the right skills and motivation and then developing these talents through training and support. There is a real need to screen for both English literacy and emotional intelligence, to ensure the best standards of care and communication.

Caring isn’t just about the basics of feeding, toileting and cleansing. It’s about supporting residents and helping them live in comfort and dignity. It’s not easy, staff are often over-worked and under-skilled. But by achieving an effective and responsive service, we’ll improve the quality of life for residents and have staff members who feel valued and satisfied in the knowledge of a job well done.

How do we get there? I believe we need to develop a hybrid program of education that produces health literate, multi-skilled care staff. I envisage a 12-month diploma level course that educates about complex conditions that affect the elderly and those requiring palliative care. It is only by really understanding the effect diseases like dementia, multiple-sclerosis or stroke have on physical and mental function, that a carer can properly address and support each individual’s needs.

In short, we need to think allied health assistant, with ninja manual handling skills and basic assessment expertise. When done well, it’s a job that is enormously rewarding and satisfying. By properly training and supporting our PCAs we can ensure that they care professionally and compassionately and that they stay working within the industry for years to come.


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