Aged care providers and consumers have told Minister for Aged Care Ken Wyatt they agree with the Aged Care Roadmap’s outline for future reform of the sector but that multiple strategies will be needed to ensure the landmark changes deliver an inclusive and sustainable system.
Several attendees at a forum hosted by Minister Wyatt in Sydney on Wednesday argued that the pace of aged care reform should be “stepped up” but with a clear timeline from government of agreed forthcoming changes.
This would help alleviate the “reform fatigue” some providers and groups were experiencing since the changes to policy began under the 2013 Living Longer Living Better measures, some participants said.
Mr Wyatt assembled the 100 stakeholders – which represented a cross-section of organisation size and location – to hear the views of frontline services on the proposals to further overhaul aged care that are outlined in the Aged Care Roadmap, which the government received last April.
After a series of brief presentations on key issues, the participants broke into groups to discuss different elements of the roadmap.
“A common theme around the room was that the roadmap is the destination and that people are comfortable with its long-term view,” said Geoff Rowe, chief executive of Aged and Disability Advocacy Australia.
“But there was a concern that there’s not just one way of getting there, we need a range of mechanisms and strategies and it’s going to be different for different groups. There was some discussion around safeguards, particularly for vulnerable members of the community,” Mr Rowe told Australian Ageing Agenda.
Sean Rooney, CEO of Leading Age Services Australia, said there was a strong view that “one size does not fit all” for either consumers or providers, given the diversity of services operating in metropolitan, regional, rural and remote areas.
“That was palpable when you had such a mix of providers and consumer groups in the room, who could talk about the experience in regional NSW or what it’s like in the Kimberley,” Mr Rooney said.
Quicken progress, but with clear milestones
Ian Yates, chief executive of Council on the Ageing Australia, said many participants wanted to see more progress on aged care reform, “with more effort and resources into getting there.”
“People think a more detailed roadmap is essential,” he told AAA. “That you need concrete milestones along the way so everyone has a clear understanding of where we’re going.”
Similarly, Nieves Murray, chief executive officer of IRT Group, said there was a “general appetite” in the room to accelerate the execution of the roadmap. She told AAA:
“I think there was a sense of urgency around making that happen.”
Mr Rooney said the importance of “sequencing of change” was discussed, given the sector was currently in the middle stage of the process – simultaneously facing a further overhaul while also reviewing the changes implemented so far through the reform review.
“There are two elements to that: there’s what you actually change, and then there’s the timing of it,” Mr Rooney said.
Ms Murray said participants highlighted the need to move further down the reform path but using “a stepped and measured approach so we don’t have chaos.”
“There was some discussion around reform fatigue; the need to have a clear line of sight to how this roadmap will be laid out so we can start to grapple with that. There was a bit of a call to action,” Ms Murray said.
Special needs, rural and remote
Many participants highlighted the importance of ensuring the system could meet the needs of those in regional, rural and remote areas and those with special needs, said Pat Sparrow, CEO of Aged & Community Services Australia.
“They were certainly flagged as key areas that we need to get right, particularly with regards to the issue of access,” Ms Sparrow said.
Similarly, Mr Rowe said there was much discussion of regional, rural and remote issues, and what aged care looks like in those areas. He said:
“There was also a lot of discussion around the challenges facing special needs groups including Indigenous, LBGTI and CALD.”
Ms Sparrow said opinion was mixed as to how well the current reforms had improved access to the system. “People had different views about the gateway and how it is working, but there was certainly agreement about the importance of getting it right,” she said.
There was also a strong view that further work to simplify and improve transparency of the user pays arrangements is needed, which is essential if a more seamless aged care system is to be achieved.
Connectivity with health
The forum also heard that reform in aged care should be viewed against the backdrop of the broader changes happening within the health sector.
“There was discussion about the importance of understanding the roadmap in the context of other reforms going on across primary care and the hospital system,” said Mr Rooney.
“And also understanding what state governments are responsible for and how that interacts with what the federal government and local governments are doing. So we’re looking at the connectivity of aged care with other portfolios and with all governments,” he said.
Innovation and technology were other areas mentioned as becoming more pertinent for the sector but which the sector’s IT council is undertaking work on, Mr Rooney added.
What happens next?
It’s understood that minister Wyatt will now use the feedback gained from the forum to refine the roadmap and then take it to Cabinet for approval on the next phase of reform.
Cynthia Payne, CEO of SummitCare, said she felt that while there was a consensus view that the roadmap made sense at a high level, stakeholders would need to work with government on the detail of how changes were implemented.
“The minister couched it that he wants to develop a long-term view, which no one would disagree with. It makes sense that he would engage his counterparts to work towards that whole-of-government support,” Ms Payne said.
Like many participants AAA spoke to, Ms Payne acknowledged minister Wyatt’s willingness to host the forum and hear from frontline services directly.
“It was a discussion that was needed,” she said.
“The minister indicated his strong commitment to the roadmap as a framework for reform,” said Mr Yates.
“And that once he has done further work with the department, sector committee and the National Aged Care Alliance he wants to see the government adopt it.”
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