Advocates and unions are calling for major funding rises to improve aged care.
Ian Yates, chief executive of Council on the Ageing (COTA), the leading national body for older Australians, says more than 100,000 people are waiting up to 18 months for home care. COTA wants billions of dollars spent to increase staffing levels.
“The number one priority is increasing home care,” he said. “Many thousands of people die while waiting. The government should fund home care packages to ensure no-one waits more than a month to get it and that would cost $2.5 billion a year.”
The Health Services Union (HSU), which represents aged care workers, wants the Medicare levy to be increased from 2 per cent to 2.65 per cent to pay for improvements in aged care.
A report it commissioned from economic consultancy Equity Economics shows $20 billion needs to be spent over four years to improve the quality of aged care.
The Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety has found the nation’s aged care system to be a “shocking tale of neglect”. Commissioners Richard Tracey and Lynell Briggs said the industry was “a sad and shocking system that diminishes Australia as a nation” and needed to be changed.
The HSU has used its final submission to the royal commission to urge a boost in salaries to “attract higher quality staff, increase retention rates and reduce the level of churn in the sector”.
Peter Gray, senior counsel assisting the commission, has said home care should be urgently prioritised over residential aged care, The Australian reports.
“This is not to disparage residential care,” Mr Gray said in his opening address to the commission. “There will always be a place for high quality residential care. But, as the research indicates, it is not generally the setting a person would choose.
“The current COVID-19 pandemic is likely to reinforce people’s general preference to age in place at home and do all they can to avoid admission to residential aged care,” he said.
The commission was told Australia had the highest proportion (19 per cent) of people aged 80 or over in residential aged care in the developed world.
However, surveys have consistently shown older people want to live in their own homes to maintain their independence.
Mr Gray said it cost the Commonwealth $71 per day per person for a home care package compared to $191 a day for a person in residential care.
And more than 100,000 people are waiting for home care packages after completing their assessments.
“If people don’t get the home care they need, they deteriorate, their quality of life is diminished, they will be more likely to have to go hospital, and they are more likely to lose their capacity for independent living and enter residential care,” Mr Gray said.
“Thus, the current delays and failures to provide assessed care are not only inhumane but have obvious and serious systemic consequences that are damaging to the aged care system, the healthcare system and the government’s budget.”
HSU national president Gerard Hayes told Nine that Australians had watched COVID-19 “rip through aged care homes like wildfire”.
“We knew our aged care homes were running on the smell of an oily rag well before COVID,” he said. “For too long the system has relied on the goodwill of a highly casualised and underpaid female workforce that often retired into poverty.”
“Australians have a clear choice. We can provide dignity and decency to the generation that built this nation. And we can do it for a reasonably modest outlay.”
The HSU plan would create 59,000 jobs in aged care.
The union claims lifting the Medicare levy would also “improve standards for residents who would receive an extra 89 minutes of daily attention from carers, allied health therapists and registered nurses”.
“Increasing taxation is always challenging,” report authors Equity Economics wrote.
“However, there is evidence that the public is prepared to support higher taxation where the revenue is being applied to clear areas of need, with costs and benefits broadly shared across the community.”
Treasurer Josh Frydenberg quickly rejected the union’s plan.
“We have no plans to do that. Our focus is on lower taxes,” he told Sky News.
“We do commit to spending more on aged care to the tune of $1 billion a year.”
The Guardian reports that research conducted for the royal commission found an extra $621 million a year would be needed to lift all aged care homes in Australia up to basic standards.
Home care aims to enable older people to live independently in their own home for as long as possible. It ranges from getting help with shopping and cooking to receiving personal care to bath, dress, and get in and out of bed. It can involve modifications to the home to improve safety and the use of services as diverse as meal deliveries and physiotherapy.
The royal commission’s interim report identified home care as one of three areas of aged care in need of immediate action.
It described the provision of home care as a ‘lottery’.
Australian Council of Trade Unions president Michele O’Neil also believes the sector needs a major funding increase, AAP reports.
“We know there needs to be a massive increase in funding to aged care to make sure we have the right mixture of workers and skills,” she told ABC radio.
Ms O’Neil said funding increases must be linked to minimum staffing levels, relevant skill acquisition and accountability for government spending.
“At the moment billions of dollars go to that sector with no guaranteed link to the quality of the care that’s being provided,” she said.
“Quality care is delivered by good quality jobs.”
Last year, a survey of aged care workers found that 87 per cent of them had to rush residents in their care because they had too many tasks to complete, The New Daily reports.
Of those surveyed, 94 per cent said they did not have time to talk to residents.
In Australia, full-time personal care workers on award rates earn between $20.73 per hour and $25.18 per hour.
The minimum hourly wage set by the Fair Work Commission is $19.49 per hour.
The Equity Economics report concludes that paying aged care workers low wages undermines quality because it makes attracting and retaining high quality and well-trained staff difficult.
The rapid spread of the coronavirus through dozens of aged care homes exposed that many aged care workers are employed as casuals, so they take shifts across multiple sites to make ends meet.
This movement helped enable the spread of coronavirus.
The HSU wants a 25 per cent rise in wages in real terms over four years for personal care workers.
“These measures alone may not be adequate, with a focus on staff training and the physical infrastructure of residential care homes also important,” the report added.
“However, they represent the biggest cost drivers of improving quality of care.”
Are you determined to live at home for as long as possible? What do you think is the major issue facing aged care?
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