In a recent article at Croakey, the Shadow Minister for Ageing and Mental Health, Julie Collins, suggested the Federal Government was dragging the chain in responding to a “pile of aged care inquiries reports, reviews, strategies and taskforces”, and was “leaving them to gather dust”.
Below, the Aged Care Minister Ken Wyatt responds to these concerns, arguing that meaningful reform is well underway in the sector.
While it is useful to hear from the major political parties on these matters, clearly issues around access, equity, and quality and safety of aged care would benefit from some independent, non-partisan analysis.
We would welcome further contributions on these matters from individuals and organisations with expertise in the area of aged care and related reforms.
Ken Wyatt writes:
The Turnbull Government’s record of aged care reform speaks for itself, with generational changes over the past year giving senior Australians more choice and control over their care, and more options to remain living in their own homes for as long as possible.
Introduced in February, our landmark Increasing Choice in Home Care reforms are bedding down and further empowering consumers, with the current rollout of up to 2,500 home care packages a week, and a $20 million revamp of the MyAgedCare information and allocation system.
Supporting people with home-based aged care is a Turnbull Government priority.
This includes two major initiatives: Home care packages and a $5.5 billion commitment to the Commonwealth Home Support Program (CHSP).
The CHSP provides entry level aged care services for people who need assistance with household chores, preparing meals, extra transport services, personal care and home maintenance.
Our 2017 aged care reforms and commitment to transparency have exposed the extent of the home care mess left by Labor.
Previously, home care waiting lists were administered by aged care providers but the Turnbull Government’s new national queue system has brought much-needed visibility and accountability.
Demand for home care
With details published quarterly, the true extent of home care demand is now being revealed.
What has also been revealed is that when Labor set the original Living Longer Living Better ratios for home care packages, they didn’t do their homework.
The Turnbull Government inherited home care system settings and supply ratios that were woefully inadequate, just as Labor failed to fully fund the NDIS.
Under the old system, many of the people waiting for home care packages were really in limbo and some of them died waiting.
Now, we know the true numbers and we are working hard to extend senior Australians’ home care options and services.
Labor’s claim that “more than 100,000 older Australians are now unable to access home care packages” is simply untrue.
At present, more than 40 per cent of people (over 40,000) listed on the national home care queue are receiving interim care.
This is because, to give people in need a level of support as quickly as possible, we provide them with a lower level interim home care package.
Importantly, although they are receiving interim care, their position in the queue is not affected, so they can be confident they will receive the higher-level package as soon as possible.
Labor’s old system was completely opaque and unaccountable.
What the newly available queue data is telling us is that more and more Australians want to receive aged care in their own homes for as long as possible.
We fully support this home care choice and, in response to rising demand, we reweighted a portion of the lower level home care packages and released an additional 6,000 Level 3 and 4 home care packages.
These extra packages were announced in mid-September, and are expected to assist people in receiving higher-level care packages as they are rolled out in coming months.
While these additional packages will assist thousands of people, we are committed to continuing reform as we rectify the Labor home care debacle.
This year, we have also allocated almost 10,000 new residential aged care places, and nearly 500 restorative care beds, and have recently provided major capital funding to a new homeless aged care facility.
Our aged care reform program includes:
- The new $25.7 million national Older Persons Advocacy Network, to stand up for people’s rights, through personal advocacy support.
- Preparation of an aged care workforce strategy, to ensure the right mix of professional nurses, carers and other qualified staff, to provide for older Australians in care.
- Australia’s first Diversity Framework, to support aged care access for LGBTI and people from culturally and linguistically diverse communities.
- Australia’s first single Aged Care Quality Framework.
Focus on quality and safety
I instigated a comprehensive regulatory review straight after the Oakden revelations earlier this year and moved immediately to implement unannounced quality audits of Aged Care homes, when I received the review in October.
The nine other recommendations are being considered by the Government, along with the comprehensive recommendations of David Tune’s Legislated Review of Aged Care.
With our record $18.6 billion Aged Care budget that we are boosting by six per cent annually, the Government has an obligation to older Australians and taxpayers to give all aged care reviews detailed and careful consideration.
We are committed to quality care for senior Australians, with a near $100 billion commitment to aged care planned for the next five years.
Regarding dementia care, it is good to see the Opposition acknowledging what the Turnbull Government is already doing.
We are fixing up the Labor’s dementia care mess, rolling out major reforms, including consolidating a single, nationally consistent Dementia Training Program for carers, and investing $200 million in world-class research.
Our policies are people-centred, targeting care and resources for those in need, and innovative ways of managing the condition.
Support for dementia care
Working with support and community groups, State and Territory governments, we have implemented major dementia care changes over the past two years, including consolidating a single, nationally consistent Dementia Training Program for carers.
We understand that dementia consumer supports cannot be separated from the aged care, health and social services systems. That’s why we’ve extended funding to Alzheimer’s Australia for the National Dementia Support Program for 12 months to June 2018 – a $54 million investment since 2015.
Our unique and innovative national approach allows family carers, health professionals and aged care providers to easily connect with an Australia-wide network of expertise when behavioural or psychological symptoms of dementia are affecting the quality of care.
Administered by Dementia Support Australia, the first tier comprises the Dementia Behaviour Management Advisory Service, working closely with the individual’s primary carer and medical specialists.
The second tier provides more intensive behaviour management support. Severe Behaviour Response Teams, which support residential aged care providers to care for those who experience severe behavioural and psychological symptoms of dementia.
And the feedback to date has been overwhelmingly positive, with a 90 per cent client satisfaction rate in its first year of operation.
Planning is also under way for the third tier of behaviour management support available to residential aged care providers – Specialist Dementia Care Units.
A robust, national, evidence-based and long-term approach to the diagnosis and treatment of dementia is essential to Australia’s social and economic well-being.
After less than 12 months as Aged Care Minister, I am proud of our continuing commitment to aged care reform. Nothing is collecting dust.
Instead, our reform agenda is gathering pace, as I remain focussed on what matters to our senior Australians and their families – safety, quality and delivery of the aged care they deserve.
• Ken Wyatt is the Minister for Aged Care and Indigenous Health