2017 has been a watershed year for employees in home support, with the introduction of guaranteed hours from 1 April and substantial wage uplifts from 1 July.

For employers the experience has felt a little more like immense water pressure through creaky pipes. As we hurtle towards 2018 we are all trying to be positive about the outcomes for staff. Some employers are noting a drop in turnover and deeper recruitment pool, though shortages remain especially where there are unsociable hours.

Although a lot of public attention has been given to pay equity and the impacts of qualifications equivalencies, it was the implementation of guaranteed hours that had the biggest impact on home support organisations during this year. This saw each of the 23,000 support workers in our sector offered a set number of hours of work over a pay period. Previously providers and employees had operated on the basis of offering and accepting work without any guarantee of regular hours, and funder contracts did not include costs for cancellations or client changes.

Managing home support workflow is a bit like playing Tetris. Coordinators have to match clients, employees, choice, needs, demand, volume, skills, time and geography in the most efficient way as well as ensuring services are provided within budget. Guaranteed hours adds a rule to the Tetris game: a set of locked blocks across the screen.

Obviously we need to grow a professional workforce and increase their productivity, but there is a great deal of pain in this process. The funding, time and flexibility to minimise negative impacts were all short of the mark and so providers have diverted energy previously spent on client interactions onto minutiae of transactions and rostering. An independent review of the implementation of guaranteed hours is almost complete and early indications are that it reflects the enormity of the impact on financial bottom lines, and on our exhausted coordinators, administrative and managerial staff.

The burning platforms as we head into 2018 and beyond are growing demand and growing expectations. Frankly we need more than the handmower we are working with now. Tools like casemix, service models like restorative care, bulk funded or package allocations, more options around consumer choice, and more consistent cost based pricing will help. The solutions have been identified in independent reports, but self-interested gate keeping is a major barrier.

HCHA has provided a lot of support to employers this year in terms of understanding changes, and in advocacy for fairness and transparency. We are also trying to look ahead, and have just this week released a Literature Review that analyses and reports on self-directed support initiatives in New Zealand and abroad. This is in response to the intent outlined in the Healthy Ageing Strategy, to promote services that give consumers more options in the supports they receive. That report will soon be available on our website at www.hcha.org.nz.

I wish everyone a restful, happy and kind Christmas.

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