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We need transformational change in aged care and we can’t afford to fail

10th August 2021

By Sandra Hills OAM, CEO Benetas

The Federal Government announcement of $17.7 billion for aged care services in response to the Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety has been heralded as the single largest investment in aged care and the largest in response to a Royal Commission in Australia’s history.

We see this commitment and feel hopeful for change, for all of us as we get older and this promise of change has been a long time coming. But now is when the work happens. We all have a responsibility, as providers, all levels of Government and consumers to drive the transformation. And we can’t afford to fail.

Constantly striving to do better is one of the strengths of humans, existing in all fields of endeavour, including the areas of health and human services. As society has become more sophisticated, expectations have grown, resulting in an ever-changing environment of continuous improvement.

In the area of aged care services, ongoing policy development leading to new approaches at a provider level have been with us, particularly since the introduction of the Aged Care Act in 1997.

The rolling out of the “Living Longer, Living Better” policy adopted in 2013 by the Labour Government and, to the credit of the coalition, continues to this day. The focus of these policy changes were to increase consumer choice and participation, improve transparency and value for money, and deliver a wellness and reablement, ageing in place focus.

The 148 recommendations from the Aged Care Royal Commission into Quality and Safety included all the areas of focus from the Living Longer, Living Better policy reforms, also adding a number of other areas, such as governance, and quality and compliance.

Scanning the totality of these reforms, even without knowing much of the detail, it is clear, even for the aged care novice, that the way we have done things in the past will no longer be effective. Adaption of our strategy, culture, systems, processes, structure and staff will be required.

We are embarking on transformational change and this requires strong leadership by all. For us, using the McKinsey and Co model of communicating well, modelling the change, building a strong team and getting personally involved will be our mantra. Importantly however, we need collaboration. A foundation of strong collaboration between government, providers, unions, consumers and other stakeholders is the only way we can get this done.

The success of achieving the reforms will depend on strong leadership and leadership is about relationships. It is not hierarchical, it is based on connection, partnerships and it is contextual.

From where I sit, many providers stand ready to work with Government and consumers to help shape, inform and achieve the ultimate goal of the Royal Commission, “to provide confidence to all Australians that, no matter what their personal circumstance, should they or their loved ones ever need aged care services, they will be able to access the type and level of service that meets their needs, professional staff who are well respected and remunerated will provide these services, and at all times their loved ones will be safe”.

Government has overall responsibility to lead the reforms, establishing the architecture, setting the pace and tone. Consumers have a responsibility to get involved. And providers have a responsibility to listen to consumers and act now. Don’t wait.

The Royal Commission reforms are big and ambitious and, for the current and future older Australians, we cannot afford to fail. The recent budget laid down the financial foundations and now we need to work together to ensure all Australians can look forward to their ageing experience, now and well into the future.