Older Australians may die waiting

Thousands of older Australians will have to wait up to 12 months to receive safe and quality aged care, as the present government suggests, says the Consumers Health Forum (CHF).

“There is no question that our aged care system requires urgent attention,” says CHF chief Leanne Wells.

The CHF is releasing a submission to the Royal Commission on Safety and Quality in Aged Care, based on recommendations from carers, family members and aged care staff.

The survey from which the submission is based revealed that a third of respondents said they did not feel confident that care was safe and right for the person involved.

Half of the respondents said they felt staff members were kind and caring, 65 per cent said they did not feel staff had enough time to deliver care and services and fewer than 40 per cent felt that medication was managed well through the aged care service.

“Any reasonable person who reads in our submission the heart-wrenching stories of the gruelling and heedless treatment experienced by residents in institutions around Australia will wonder how a civilised society could put up with this longer than absolutely necessary,” said Ms Wells.

“The submission makes 13 recommendations for sweeping change including more and better training, improved staff ratios, more unannounced inspections and more access of consumers to inspections and assessments.

“We are concerned the recent announcement of a six-month extension to the Royal Commission will delay the Government taking action to address the serious problems in our aged care system.

“Older Australians should not have to wait another 12 months to receive safe, quality and patient-centred care. The commission should include reasonable timeframes, in consultation with relevant organisations, for all its recommendations.”

CHF’s recommendations to the royal commission include:

  • Support to ensure mandatory high-quality staff training, particularly in relation to caring for patients with dementia and alternatives to restrictive practices.
  • More funding to build the capacity of the aged care workforce to deliver high quality and person-centred care.
  • Mandating appropriate ratio of skilled staff to aged care residents.
  • Reforms to medication management including embedding pharmacists in facilities.
  • Increase frequency of unannounced, randomised inspections conducted by accreditation bodies for aged care at least once a year and extra targeted inspection for at-risk providers.
  • Involve inspectors speaking with a higher percentage (at least 20 per cent) of residents, and with families about the care and without the provider necessarily knowing they are going to have that conversation.
  • Involve consumers in the assessor workforce which accredits community and residential aged care.

The waiting game is also being played by those in line for the Home Care Packages (HCP) program, with the Combined Pensioners and Superannuants Association (CPSA) suggesting that up to 60,000 will die before receiving the care they need.

The waiting list for the HCP became shorter rather than longer for the first time since its inception, with 9514 fewer people waiting than in the previous quarter.

However, CPSA says that the waiting list only became shorter because of the number of people who died waiting for the HCP.

“This was achieved by adding only 5779 new packages,” says CPSA. “Take away 5779 from 9514. This yields 3735, which is the number of people who dropped off the HCP waiting list because they died waiting.

“That’s in just three months’ time. Extrapolated to a period of one year that number is 14,940 people dying waiting. This means that the reduction in the number of people waiting for a package is 39 per cent due to people dying.

“This reduction is nothing to be proud of.”

CPSA says that the HCP program is flawed, in that the number of allocated packages exceeds the number of active packages.

“The current allocated number is 144,912, whereas the latest actual, active number is 99,110. That means 45,802 packages are allocated but inactive for administrative reasons. Activating those almost 46,000 packages would make a real dent in the waiting list,” says CPSA.

“It wouldn’t solve the problem, but it would make a real difference.”

As it is, the number of “allocated home care packages across the forward estimates” is projected to rise by 8.4 per cent by June 2023, but no one knows how many of the then 157,154 allocated packages will be active. By that time, 60,000 people will have died waiting, about half the current waiting list of 119,000.

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Written by Leon Della Bosca

Leon Della Bosca has worked in publishing and media in one form or another for around 25 years. He's a voracious reader, word spinner and art, writing, design, painting, drawing, travel and photography enthusiast. You'll often find him roaming through galleries or exploring the streets of his beloved Melbourne and surrounding suburbs, sketchpad or notebook in hand, smiling.
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