Extra home care packages a ‘drop in the bucket’

Aged care was “one of the greatest challenges we face in delivering essential services to Australians”, Treasurer Josh Frydenberg, said on Tuesday night as he outlined the support that could be expected for the sector and announced a welcome increase in funding for home care packages.

He said the extent of additional funding for aged care would follow the final report from the Aged Care Quality and Safety Royal Commission, which is expected in February.

“The government will provide a comprehensive response to the final recommendations following receipt of that report,” he said. “This will involve significant additional investment.”

Meanwhile, he said the government would spend $1.6 billion to provide an additional 23,000 home care packages. More than 100,000 older Australians are waiting on delivery of home care packages and figures from the Department of Health show 28,000 people have died while on the waitlist in the past two years. The highest level package available is worth $50,000 a year, the ABC reports.

Council on the Ageing Australia (COTA) had called on the government to fund an additional 60,000 home care packages and ensure no one had to wait longer than 30 days for access.

Chief executive Ian Yates said last night he was pleased with the additional packages, but disappointed there was no commitment or plan to get waiting times down and ensure no one was prematurely forced into residential care.

“The new home care packages are a substantial step forward and to be applauded, as are the supporters of our ‘Safer at Home’ campaign who lobbied for this,” he said, “but we still have a way to go and more will need to be done in the May 2021 Budget.”

Mr Yates said COTA welcomed other aged care initiatives, including:

  • $29.8 million to implement the Serious Incident Response Scheme to provide better protection for residents in aged care 
  • $91.6 million over four years to create an independent assessment service for the new residential care assessment and funding tool
  • $35.6 million over two years to extend the Business Improvement Fund, to help restructure residential aged care
  • commitments to upskilling aged care workers in dementia and funding the Aged Care Workforce Industry Council, which now needs to deliver leadership in workforce reform.

Catholic Health Australia (CHA) CEO Pat Garcia said the aged care sector had been underfunded for years, staff were underpaid and many homes were operating at a loss.

“It’s disappointing that once again the aged care sector has largely been forgotten in today’s budget,” he said. “We shouldn’t be in this position and older Australians deserve far better from our political leaders.”

CHA said the $91.6 million to transition to a new funding model for residential aged care was welcome, but would do nothing to address the immediate financial pressures facing many aged care facilities.

Mr Garcia said: “We know that more than half of aged care homes are currently operating at a loss, and almost 70 per cent are operating at a loss in regional Australia.

“Unless more money is made available now, there is a very real concern that many care homes will be facing closure.”

Mr Garcia said staff costs accounted for almost 70 per cent of budgets, and the amount the sector received from the government had not kept up with the real increases in wages and costs.

The peak body for non-profit aged care providers, Aged and Community Services Australia (ACSA), said the additional home care packages were a drop in the bucket of what was required to set up the sector for the next decade.

The system needs a reboot not a tinkering, said CEO Patricia Sparrow.

“The kind of financing and budget reform that is necessary to set up Australia for our ageing population means a total rethink – not just a series of announcements that prop up the current system,” Ms Sparrow said. 

On the general health front, the Budget provides:

  • $1.7 billion for COVID-19 vaccines plus $24.7 million to make sure there are enough syringes to deliver shots when they’re available
  • a focus on mental health, including doubling the number of Medicare-funded psychological services from 10 consultations to 20
  • the listing of new drugs on the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme, including Lynparza for women diagnosed with ovarian cancer
  • $750m for COVID-19 testing
  • $171m for the extended operation of up to 150 dedicated respiratory clinics to manage and diagnose COVID cases
  • $112m for the continuation of Medicare rebated telehealth services for GP, allied health and specialist consultations.

Are you satisfied that the government has acknowledged the need for more home care funding and that it will act after the aged care royal commission hands down its final report?

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Written by Janelle Ward

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