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Aged Care should be a priority, regardless of who wins

12th April 2019

With the Federal election looming and both major parties vowing to make aged care a priority for their government. It’s time to talk about what could and should be addressed in the first 100 days of government, regardless of the outcome of this year’s election. Understandably, the important issues within the sector cannot be addressed from day one, and I am sure that the work program will be divided into immediate, medium and long term goals.

However, what older people, the community and providers would want to hear from the commencement of a political term is that the newly elected government has a good grasp of the issues and where the priorities lie and is focused on supporting older people and their families to have a positive experience of ageing. Having said that, there are a number of things that can be acted upon immediately:

  • Home Care packages – Both major parties should enter into the election with a plan to reduce waiting lists which is currently sitting at 128,000 people. This is unacceptable to say the least and requires immediate attention to address the needs of these elderly Australians. In addition, a recent study from Leading Age Services Australia (LASA) has estimated between $200 and $350 million of taxpayer dollars go unspent in home care. In a time when demand for aged care exceeds supply, providers, consumers and peak bodies are calling for action on the complex issue of unspent funds. The matter clearly requires further exploration including a better understanding of the views and interests of all key stakeholders. The sector hopes that necessary research will be conducted to provide a firm foundation for action by Government to ensure public money is utilised to its fullest extent and the care needs of older Australians who want to stay at home are addressed.
  • Workforce plan implementation – With clear recommendations outlined in the Aged Care Workforce Strategy Taskforce report, A matter of care, led Professor John Pollaers, being able to identify the few actions that are “low hanging fruit” should be easily achievable. For example agreement by the industry of a Code of Practice, is a good place to start. The new government will need to be able to identify concrete outcomes and timelines in which it can regularly report.
  • Resources - Referring back to the Legislated Review of Aged Care 2017 report by Mr David Tune AO PSM, implementing just one of the funding recommendations would be a good start to provide additional funds for providers to meet the new regulatory and workforce requirements to increase confidence. An example could be to increase the daily care fee in residential care, or increase the upper limit for the value of the family home.
  • Support regarding the introduction of the new single quality framework and the Aged Care Quality and Safety Commission - Providing clear plans for moving to this new approach, including funding for providers to understand their responsibilities and undertake sustained system changes and staff development would prove highly beneficial. When it comes to aged care, we cannot afford to continue with ‘compliance focused’ practices at the cost of quality care. We need to do more as an industry, to provide support and assistance to older Australians, including a more holistic quality framework which supports dignity and choice.
  • Respite - This is an area that has substantial opportunities for innovation and many consumer groups and providers have already come up with some great ideas about what may be required to support older people and their Carers. One example includes models to keep Carers working whilst still undertaking a caring role. This is something that should be actively encouraged by government and incentives given to those who pursue their ideas.
  • Staff ratios - The reason why staff ratios are believed in so strongly by some needs to be unpacked, it would be fair to say that ‘improving quality of care’ is a key reason for its introduction. The immediate goal here would be to ‘start the conversation’. Even if we had all the money in the world to employ as many staff we wanted, we could still be faced with issues from lack of training or just not having the right person for the job. It is not about money but about the ability and flexibility to meet the individual needs of residents. If it is about transparency then we need to talk about that but we need to be careful not to start with the term ‘staff ratios’. I urge the Royal Commission to focus more on the mix of staff needed to provide a good ageing experience to older Australians. Rather than staff ratios, we need aged care staff with a range qualities and disciplines, qualifications, attributes and tailored numbers of staff, suitable to each different environment. It is time to reframe the discussion, moving from ‘more staff will keep our older people safe’ to ‘what staffing model will ensure those in our care have a positive experience of ageing?’

With a strong focus on aged care at the moment due to the Royal Commission, the introduction of the new Aged Care Quality and Safety Commission and the implementation of the single quality framework, a newly elected government needs to seize this opportunity and have a clear and effective plan for aged care.

The Royal Commission isn’t due to report its findings until April 2020 and the sector cannot afford to wait until the findings for changes to be made. There are plenty of recommendations from previous inquiries and reports that can be implemented immediately by government.

All that’s needed is a government committed to doing so.