Easing standard for number of workers key to solving caregiver shortage

To alleviate the labor shortage in nursing care, the government is considering relaxing its standards for the number of workers assigned to such facilities on condition that they use IT. How it will affect the quality of care and the burden on staff should be examined from various perspectives.

The easing of the standards has been discussed at the government’s Council for Promotion of Regulatory Reform. It is said to be mulling introducing a special measure to reduce the number of employees required by the current standards, by using equipment that helps workers lift elderly people and devices such as monitoring sensors.

Under the Long-Term Care Insurance Law, nursing care facilities are currently required to have at least one staff member for every three residents.

According to a government estimate, 2.8 million nursing care workers will likely be needed in fiscal 2040 when the population of elderly people aged 65 or older nears its peak. This means that an additional 690,000 workers on top of the current level will be needed.

Nursing care work tends to involve heavy labor, and many such workplaces are already suffering from labor shortages. The government apparently aims to create a system that enables appropriate care with a small number of workers.

It is important to reduce the burden on employees by utilizing IT and other means.

Some facilities use sensors that detect abnormal changes, such as falls. Other places use devices that help move elderly people from their beds to wheelchairs.

The government plans to conduct trial runs of nursing care robots and similar devices for six months at facilities where they are in use, to examine how the use of such equipment affects the physical and mental health of those receiving care and changes the way staff work.

Based on the results, the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry’s Social Security Council will discuss specific standards.

However, many care recipients and their family members may worry about the quality of services declining if the number of caregivers at facilities reduces. It is hoped that the government will thoroughly analyze the trials’ results and advance the discussion in a reasonable manner.

It is also necessary to avoid a situation in which workers struggle with handling equipment they are not used to and end up shouldering increased workloads.

In recent years, the government has expanded the subsidy system for nursing care facilities that introduce relevant devices. The government should make more efforts to improve the environment surrounding these facilities, such as by supporting the development of equipment that meets the needs of front-line workers.

It must not be forgotten that the current labor shortage is caused partly by the treatment of nursing care workers.

In this fiscal year’s supplementary budget, the government earmarked expenses to raise the monthly income of nursing care workers by about 3%, for the time being. It intends to realize pay raises in October and beyond through an interim revision of nursing care fees.

It is important that the central government, prefectural governments and care providers continue to cooperate to try to improve the treatment of staff.

— The original Japanese article appeared in The Yomiuri Shimbun on Feb. 21, 2022.