Prime Minister Scott Morrison on Monday committed $537 million in aged care funding, most of which would be spent on home-care packages, the rest towards improved processes to reduce reliance on chemical restraint and removing younger people from aged care, as per suggestions from the Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety’s Interim Report.
Mr Morrison made good on promises that he made earlier in November, after the commission branded the aged care system “unkind and uncaring” and “a shocking tale of neglect”.
The added funding has been welcomed by some leading bodies, but it is still difficult to forget that the PM was just last year accused of stripping $1.2 billion from the aged care system in his first budget as federal Treasurer.
And while those accusations may be fresh in the minds of many, they may be misleading. Then-treasurer Morrison did indeed pare back aged care spending by $1.2 billion, but he cut it from what was deemed ‘inefficiencies’, and, in fact, government spending on aged care has increased and the cuts made in the 2016-17 budget may have led to better targeting of current aged care funding.
Anglicare Australia has welcomed the funds but is calling on the government to build on this commitment in its next budget.
“Today’s announcement from the Prime Minister is a good start, but it’s only a first step. More must be done to improve care for older people,” said Anglicare Australia executive director Kasy Chambers.
“The 10,000 new home care packages are badly needed – and it’s good to see the funding aimed at people with high needs. Now we need action to clear the rest of the home care backlog.
“Sixteen thousand people died waiting for home care packages last year. Another 120,000 are languishing on the waiting list. The government must take real action on this in its next budget.
“We’re pleased to see new funding for medication management, and action to reduce the use of chemical restraints. But we must also improve access to health services in residential care. That has been a key focus of the royal commission, and it’s something the government can act on now,” she added, noting that the Aged Care Workforce Strategy is still not funded.
“It’s clear we need to invest more in our staff if we want quality care, now and in the future.
“The investment in dementia and chemical restraint training is good to see. But it also highlights a big gap – we need to see action on the Aged Care Workforce Strategy. The strategy has support across the sector. It is just waiting for funding and commitment from government,” she said, adding that the government needs now to start planning for longer-term reforms.
“The government must build on today’s announcement. That means committing to a funding model that guarantees quality aged care for everybody who needs it. It should start budgeting for this now, so it’s ready to act on the royal commission’s final recommendations in 2020.
“We have heard a lot about the promised budget surplus. But the best thing we could do for older people is make sure that everyone can get the quality care they need, when they need it, where they need it. Making that a reality should be our first priority,” she said.
Dementia Australia also welcomed government action, with Dementia Australia chief Maree McCabe saying that the response would go some way towards meeting current shortfalls in the system but further action is still needed.
“The additional 10,000 home care packages are urgently needed, especially those weighted towards level three and level four packages, but there is still a 120,000-strong waiting list and a lack of uncertainty for all those impacted,” she said.
“With 70 per cent of the almost half a million Australians with dementia living in the community, many are on this waiting list.
“They need confidence in a system that will provide quality care to enable them to be supported to stay at home longer and be engaged and included in their communities, avoiding premature entry into residential care.”
Dementia Australia especially appreciated actions towards reducing chemical restraint.
“While guidelines on the use of chemical restraint do exist, ensuring these are implemented is vital,” said Ms McCabe.
“There needs to be a larger commitment from all stakeholders to dementia education to eliminate the inappropriate use of antipsychotic medication, and to improve the health and care outcomes for people living with dementia.
“As the prevalence of dementia increases in our community, it is critical that all aged care services and other professionals working in the sector are well-equipped and supported to provide the best possible care for Australians living with dementia.
“Whilst the additional $10 million for training announced is welcome, more funding is needed to train the more than 360,000 people working in the aged care sector. Furthermore, study and career pathways must also be established to encourage people to work in the sector.
Dementia Australia has increased calls for the introduction of mandatory dementia-specific training for the aged care workforce.
“Supporting and strengthening our aged care workforce will better support Australians living with dementia, their families and carers now and for the generations to come,” said Ms McCabe.
“We look forward to more detail about today’s announcement and working in collaboration with the government on the ongoing reform of the aged care system.”
Mr Morrison said the commission was a “very uncomfortable” exercise, but assured Australians that he “will deal with these issues as you would if you were standing in my shoes today”.
“I have a very deep understanding of the difficult decisions that you’re having to make, the conversations you’re having to have with the partners, husbands, wives of those loved ones going into care, other siblings,” he said.
“I want the response of our government to have the same level of deep care and responsibility.”
The final report is due on 12 November 2020.
Do you think the government is taking the rights steps towards improving aged care?
If you enjoy our content, don’t keep it to yourself. Share our free eNews with your friends and encourage them to sign up.