As stakeholders such as Alzheimer’s Australia were busy on Monday launching Dementia Awareness Month and highlighting the range of events that aim to educate the community about the disease, politicians were trading blame over the axed dementia supplement.
Despite the fact that the National Aged Care Alliance is currently working on an alternative to the suspended Dementia and Severe Behaviours Supplement, as revealed by Australian Ageing Agenda last week, politicians on both sides continue to accuse each other of wrongdoing over the failed policy.
On Monday morning the Labor party raised the issue again at a media doorstop at IRT’s Kangara Waters in Belconnen, ACT. After briefly noting it was the beginning of Dementia Awareness Month, Leader of the Opposition Bill Shorten proceeded to condemn the government for axing what he called the “dementia and related diseases” supplement.
Mr Shorten said:
“There are 16 residents staying here who, on 31 July, each lost $16 daily payments which were pooled to provide extra resources for older Australians living with dementia and related diseases.”
Later the issue was taken to Parliament, where the supplement’s axing was raised in both the House of Representatives and the Senate.
Responding to a question from Mr Shorten on the axing of the supplement, Prime Minister Tony Abbott said the scheme was “poorly designed and grossly underfunded” by the former government.
Mr Abbott said:
“We have suspended the program and we are working with aged care providers to redesign the program on a basis that is sustainable so that people with dementia get the care that they deserve.”
Responding to a subsequent question from Shadow Minister for Ageing Shayne Neumann, Mr Abbott said the program would be “redesigned in consultation with the aged care sector to ensure that dementia sufferers are dealt with appropriately, suitably and with compassion.”
Meanwhile, in the Senate, Assistant Minister for Social Services Mitch Fifield was accusing Labor of “skulking around aged care facilities and unnecessarily causing concern and distress to residents”, in reference to its doorstop media briefings at aged care facilities over the supplement.
Senator Fifield said Labor was creating the impression that the supplement was the core funding for people with dementia. “It is not. In our aged care system, about half the people who are in residential care have dementia. This was not the core funding for them. This was funding which was intended for people who had severe behaviours related to dementia.”
Labor Senator Helen Polley put a question to Senator Fifield:
“Can the minister explain why he waited over a month after the budget to make this announcement and did not engage in any detailed consultation with providers prior to the announcement?”
Senator Fifield responded that he had advised the budget estimates committee, and the Aged Care Sector Committee, of the issues with the supplement.
Later, Senator Fifield cited the commentary from CEO of HammondCare Stephen Judd, quoted in Australian Ageing Agenda, who said the cessation of the supplement “had to happen.” He also pointed to comments from Ian Yates, chief executive of Council on the Ageing, again quoted in AAA, who agreed with Mr Judd that termination of the supplement was “inevitable”.
“Many providers were receiving very substantial extra funds without validation and with no guarantee of better outcomes for people with severe dementia symptoms,” Mr Yates had said.
“I make it clear that the policy and design of the former government is gone,” Senator Fifield said. “It is not coming back. We are going to work cooperatively with the sector to see if we can come up with something that is better targeted and better focused than those opposite came forward with.”
On Monday evening the senior minister over aged care, Kevin Andrews, issued a public statement saying he was “amazed at the hypocrisy of Labor to use Dementia Awareness Month to criticise the Coalition for ending a dementia supplement when it totally mismanaged the design of the payment while in government.”
Mr Andrews said:
“This supplement, which was paid to aged care providers, was an ALP policy failure and they have the hide to attack the Coalition today for ending the mismanagement of it.”
The payment was flawed from the start and had gone 10 times beyond its funding envelope, he added.