Urgently provide nursing care staff with comfortable working conditions

How to secure human resources who can meet the growing demand for nursing care is a key question. The government should strengthen measures on this issue with a strong sense of urgency.

The Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry has released its estimates that 2.8 million nursing care workers will be required in fiscal 2040, when the elderly population will exceed 39 million. This means that an additional 690,000 nursing care workers will be necessary from the current 2.11 million.

When nursing care homes face a shortage of staff, a vicious circle is likely to be created in which the heavier the burden employees shoulder, the more the remaining workforce quits. It will be difficult to increase the number of facilities unless a sufficient number of staff can be secured.

Under the current circumstances, it won’t be possible to maintain or improve nursing care services in the future. The government should not put off tackling the challenges involved, but make steady efforts to implement measures aimed to expand the workforce in the nursing care industry.

There is an urgent need to improve the employment conditions including salaries for care workers.

The average monthly salary for nursing care workers stands at around ¥290,000, about ¥60,000 lower than the figure for all industries. It will be the key to raise their salaries by taking advantage of such opportunities as revising fees for nursing care services, while improving productivity at facilities.

Aiming to reduce the burden on their staff, some nursing homes use information and communications technology, such as devices that monitor the conditions of sleeping residents and can notify staff of any abnormalities detected. The central government provides subsidies to nursing home operators to make use of such devices.

It is also important to have the viewpoint of making effective use of the limited human resources available.

Some employees who are certified as care workers also engage in supplementary duties such as cleaning and serving meals. It is desirable that these duties are handled by other employees so that certified care workers can focus on their highly specialized tasks, such as taking care of those with dementia and helping them bathe.

The Mie prefectural government has been implementing a measure providing subsidies to cover part of the costs for recruiting elderly people and other locals to engage in supplementary duties as assistants at nursing care homes. The employee turnover rate reportedly has declined at the relevant facilities.

Some certified care workers have quit because they found it difficult to strike a balance between work and personal issues, such as child-rearing and caring for their parents. Not a few of them wish to find employment again as long as working conditions are satisfactory. It is necessary to encourage such human resources to come back into the field so that their abilities and expertise can be fully utilized.

The ministry has been calling for prefectural governments to set up a system to certify nursing care service operators that provide comfortable working conditions. Under the framework, prefectural governments evaluate efforts by operators, such as supporting employees to balance work and child-rearing and providing training programs, and make this information publicly available online.

This certification system can encourage nursing care service providers to carry out workplace reform. It is essential to increase the number of operators that can be recognized as excellent.

— The original Japanese article appeared in The Yomiuri Shimbun on Aug. 8, 2021.