Aged care needs ‘urgent redesign’

Aged care is in crisis and requires a “radical redesign”, according to industry chiefs.

A report handed to the Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety and signed by about 120 chief executives is seeking the urgent appointment of a cabinet minister whose sole responsibility is ageing and aged care reform. The report says residential facilities are being forced into the red and people are dying while waiting for home-care packages.

The report also backs the development of a digital ‘passport’ for aged-care recipients and the immediate evaluation of the sector’s viability. It was prepared with accountancy firm Grant Thornton and advocates for cash injections of $500 million every year for at least three years to reduce home-care package wait-lists of about 130,000 people.

“We’ve done modelling that would suggest $1.3 billion over the next 18 months would bring stability and confidence to the residential aged-care sector,” said Leading Age Services Australia chief executive Sean Rooney.

“[The money should be given before the royal commission ends] because we know that [finances] are constraining … the ability of providers to consistently meet the care needs of residents in residential care, and we know that there is a very human cost of the wait-list [for home care].”

The royal commission has been told that about 16,000 Australians – 44 per day – died while waiting for a home-care package in 2017-18 even though they had received approval.

Nationally, more than 129,000 people are waiting for care. About 60 per cent are waiting to be approved for a package, the remainder have already received approval.

Home-care packages assist people who are assessed as needing extra help to stay in their home, rather than move into nursing homes. There are four levels of home care ranging from basic to high needs, and the Federal Government subsidises approved organisations to provide the packages.

However, the subsidies are capped, and demand has outstripped supply.

Coalition of the Aged (COTA) chief executive Ian Yates said the assessment system needed to be streamlined.

“The Government, in fairness, has responded to the increasing demand, partly with additional packages and partly by bringing forward packages they’d planned for future years, but it’s not enough.”

Federal Aged Care Minister Richard Colbeck said that in the year to December 2018, the number of people receiving assistance had increased by 20 per cent.

“To meet further demand, the Government has invested an additional $2.2 billion into 34,000 new home-care packages since last year’s budget,” he said.

“Indications are that this increase in home-care packages has already made a difference in senior Australians’ ability to access in-home care.”

He acknowledged, however, that there was “more work to do” and said the Government was “committed to supporting senior Australians to access the care type that they want and need”.

The peak body for non-profit aged care providers, Aged and Community Services (ACSA), says the reported reduction in the homecare waiting lists is welcome, but there are still too many people waiting for a package.

“This reduction of around six per cent in people waiting for a package is, unfortunately, just a drop in the ocean of people desperately needing better support at home,” said ACSA chief executive Patricia Sparrow.

“This is great news for those who are now getting a package, but what about everyone else?

“Being on a home-care waitlist is not just an inconvenience. If people have to wait, it can have a lasting impact on their health. It can lead to increased pressure on already stretched hospitals, mean someone has to enter residential care, or worse that they die waiting for support that never arrives.”

ACSA is calling for an urgent boost of 40,000 packages and a strategy to ensure people can receive a package within three months.

Do you receive a home care package? Have you been approved but are on a waitlist? Is the problem just a lack of money?

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Written by Janelle Ward

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