Government releases five-year road map to fix a 'national disgrace'

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The federal government has delivered its ‘initial’ response to the Aged Care Quality and Safety Royal Commission findings, with a renewed focus ‘not on the provider and on money, but on the individual’.

In the report titled Care, Dignity and Respect, royal commissioners Tony Pagone QC and Lynelle Briggs AO call for fundamental reform of the aged care system and make 148 recommendations.

They include approving home care packages within one month from the date of a person’s assessment and clearing the waitlist by the end of the year.

They also recommend putting the power to prescribe anti-psychotic drugs in the hands of a psychiatrist or a geriatrician.

“The extent of substandard care in Australia’s aged care system reflects both poor quality on the part of some aged care providers and fundamental systemic flaws with the way the Australian aged care system is designed and governed,” they state. “People receiving aged care deserve better. The Australian community is entitled to expect better.”

For too long, say the commissioners, legislation governing aged care in Australia has focused on the funding requirements of aged care providers rather than on the care needs of older people.

Announcing the findings this afternoon, Prime Minister Scott Morrison pledged an initial $452 million and warned ” we should brace for impact and be prepared for what would follow”.

“And it has been a harrowing process,” he said. “The stories, the accounts, the evidence that has been brought together over these several years now are all set out in the royal commission and Australians as they read them felt the same way I did, I’m sure.

“And the royal commission has now, I think, set out a very important road map which I think will establish generational change in this country when it comes to aged care. It’s the inquiry we needed to have.”

Minister for the aged Richard Colbeck expected the royal commission “would put the government on notice”, but Mr Morrison has embraced the damning findings as an opportunity to make generational change to the way aged care is provided in Australia.

The PM also accepted some of the responsibility for the state of aged care, both as prime minister and as federal treasurer before that.

However, he was quick to point out that no government in the past 25 to 30 years had improved aged care and that he was the man to implement a royal commission into the embattled sector.

Read more: Aged care, death and taxes after the royal commission

Federal health minister Greg Hunt says the government’s five-year plan is “ambitious, challenging, but achievable” and will address five pillars: home care, quality and safety, services and sustainability, workforce and governance.

“Firstly, in terms of home care, we will immediately act on transparency of fees and commence an audit program of over 500 facilities per year and providers,” said Mr Hunt.

“That’s a very important part of protecting our elders against any abuse. At the same time, we’ll be implementing a new quality control system within home care.

“Secondly, in terms of residential care, quality and safety, we will commence the process of 1500 extra audits of facilities  per year under the aged care quality and safety commissioner. But we will also put in place, under that commission, regulation to ensure further protection against chemical and physical restraint.

“We will appoint a new senior restraint leader within the commission, and we will extend the pharmacy program within the commission and under the department to 2025.

“And that will be a significant process, but it’s based on a simple concept of respect for the individual. Instead of being about providers, instead of it being about money, it’s about respect for the individual needs and that is the fundamental generational transformation.”

Read more: Paid on par with cleaners: the broader issue affecting aged care

Mr Morrison says funding the recommendations will “test everything in our budget”.

“What the royal commission has found is that … an assessment has never been undertaken based on a needs-based model,” said the PM.

“But, you know, in our country we have a needs-based system of healthcare. In our country we don’t have a needs-based system of aged care. No government has done that ever, ever, and the result of that is what we read in this report today.

“That’s why I say that generational change is now required.”

When the Prime Minister was asked if the findings of the aged care commission were a “national disgrace”, he replied: “Well, of course I do. I was prime minister for two years and previous to that, treasurer for three. Our government will take responsibility like all governments over the last 25 to 30 years, which is what the royal commission – that very quote you’ve just referred to – was referring to governments over the last 25 years.

“That that has been the prism, the framework in which our aged care sector has been funded and run. As well intentioned as everybody who may have served in governments, in cabinets, in policy advice systems or run health aged care facilities or provided support in whatever they could, despite those best intentions, those are the outcomes.

“That’s why I asked the question, because I could not get the assurance that the answer would be any different to that. And so, I honestly asked the question. You now have the answer. I now have the answer.

“The road map that it sets out to deal with that fundamentally seeks a shift from a constrained system that focused on funding to providers to a needs-based system that puts the person at the centre. That is the change.”

Read more: Australians expect high quality aged care. Why can’t they get it?

When asked about his main priority from today, he said: “The person for whom you are seeking to provide care has to be at the centre. That their dignity, their care and their needs have to sit at the centre.

“That’s the sort of thing that should be enshrined in the new act.

“You might think why that hasn’t always been the case. And that’s a fair question. That’s what we need to change.”

The future of aged care, says the PM, will most likely be in the home and will be a needs-based system, including individualised, tailored care packages utilising technology and specialised services.

“Where aged care services will be provided in the future, substantively, over time, will not be in facilities, they’ll be in people’s homes,” he said.

“And there will be a range of supports that are provided, not unlike the individual care packages provided for people under the NDIS (National Disability Insurance Scheme).

“And the people will get tailored, individualised care plans for them and the supports they need.”

Read full report at www.agedcare.royalcommission.gov.au

What do you feel about the initial response? Are you happy with the PM’s promises?

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Written by Leon Della Bosca

Leon Della Bosca is a voracious reader who loves words. You'll often find him spending time in galleries, writing, designing, painting, drawing, or photographing and documenting street art. He has a publishing and graphic design background and loves movies and music, but then, who doesn’t?

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