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Single advocacy program in the works, but service delivery unclear

The government has accepted that a national program of advocacy services for aged care consumers is needed, but has held off on deciding on the delivery.

Australia’s system of advocacy services for seniors receiving aged care looks set to be overhauled with the Federal Government confirming a new single program and framework will be developed to deliver a nationally consistent approach.

Currently the government funds advocacy services through the National Aged Care Advocacy Program (NACAP) and the Commonwealth Home Support Program (CHSP). NACAP services are delivered by a different organisation in each state, and two in the Northern Territory.

But the move towards a consumer-led deregulated aged care market – in which consumers pay more of their own money and have more control over services – prompted the Federal Government review of the publicly-funded services that advocate on seniors’ behalf.

Late on Friday the government released the review’s report, which found there was widespread support for a single framework to ensure national consistency of services. Stakeholders were also in favour of combining the advocacy services currently delivered through NACAP and CHSP into an “integrated, end-to-end program”.

It found that the current nine advocacy providers were recognised as providing “a quality service” to aged care consumers, though it noted there were some challenges in ensuring equal access to services, particularly among those from special needs groups.

The review considered three scenarios for the possible service delivery options – the creation of a single centralised service with jurisdiction-based offices; the retention of the existing nine state and territory-based organisations, or regionally-based providers.

But while the government confirmed the delivery of services under the new program from January 2017 will be decided through an “open funding round,” it did not provide any further details of the tender.

The government confirmed the current advocacy services will have their funding extended to January 2017, while it consults with stakeholders on the development of the framework, and presumably, the preferred format for delivery of services.

Service welcomes findings

Russell Westacott

Russell Westacott

Russell Westacott, CEO of the Seniors Rights Service in NSW, said he welcomed the review’s findings and the opportunity for the existing nine advocacy services to demonstrate their effectiveness.

“For the relatively small funding we get as a group of organisations we think we have the backbone in place to reach into all four corners of all states and territories,” he told Australian Ageing Agenda.

During the 2014-15 financial year, the advocacy providers delivered face-to-face education to almost 79,000 seniors and advocacy services to 7,000 older people, Mr Westacott said.

He said the nine organisations were about to sign an MOU to formalise their Older Person’s Advocacy Network (OPAN), which they developed 18 months ago to solidify their state-based work, share resources and provide capacity building.

The review proposed the development of a formal alliance of advocacy providers, and cited the current OPAN.

Mr Westacott said that the decision to put the new program out to competitive tender meant other services could apply, though he noted the review’s findings that stakeholders were against advocacy services being delivered by faith-based organisations or aged care providers.

“That’s a good thing. One of the benefits of the existing advocacy program, which has been funded for more than 20 years to all the different states and territory organisations, is that it’s independent from service providers. The whole idea is for [advocacy services] to take on their issues and respond to the service provider so the situation for the older person can improve,” said Mr Westacott.

Time to consult on service delivery welcomed

Ian Yates

Ian Yates

Ian Yates, chief executive of Council on the Ageing (COTA) Australia, said he was pleased the government had not rushed into a decision on the service delivery of the new program.

Opening the service delivery up to tender was “not an unreasonable position for government to take when it’s trying to re-frame the program and fit it into a different architecture of aged care,” he said.

By extending the current advocacy services’ funding for another seven months there was now time for the department to engage with the sector on the service delivery, Mr Yates said.

The consultation period could canvass other issues, such as whether consumer education belonged with advocacy services, he added. “We’re very keen to see more literacy support and peer-to-peer support for consumers.”

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