Residential aged care providers would be required to offer some respite care in return for improved Commonwealth subsidies under proposals from the peak carers’ group.
Carers Australia says its new survey of organisations that help carers access respite clearly shows that “demand for residential respite care is not being met.”
As well as mandated provision of respite and improved government subsidies to residential aged care providers, Carers Australia is calling for greater availability of other forms of respite, such as cottage style accommodation for overnight and weekend breaks.
There is an estimated 2.7 million informal carers in Australia, 400,000 of whom provide care for someone aged over 65 and 300,000 support someone living with dementia. The replacement cost of care provided by family and friends was put at $60.3 billion in 2015 by Deloitte Access Economics.
Carers Australia says it undertook the survey because it was increasingly receiving reports of difficulties finding respite care, particularly from services that offer respite advice to carers.
“Challenges to offering respite care are also acknowledged by the residential aged care providers, with increased risks of vacancies, greater workloads from consumer turnover and lower subsidies,” the peak reports.
Its survey of 112 services, from metropolitan and regional and remote areas, found most agencies reported high or very high demand for emergency respite (74 per cent) and planned residential respite (88 per cent).
“Only 35 per cent of respondents were able to offer respite care most of the time, with a further 46 per cent able to offer respite care some of the time,” the survey found.
One agency said:
“Most of the time residential respite is able to be found by ringing around different facilities. However, this is a slow process and frustrating for carers.”
The types of care that were rated most difficult to access were weekend respite (72 per cent), emergency respite (68 per cent) and planned respite (66 per cent).
Asked about the reasons for difficulties accessing residential respite, most agencies identified low availability of places (81 per cent), high care needs (68 per cent) and affordability (62 per cent) as the key barriers.
In terms of improvements to residential respite, the most common suggestions included having dedicated respite beds, being able to access respite without an ACAT assessment, a central system for checking availability and making bookings, and dementia specific respite care.
Responding to the report, Aged and Community Services Australia said the recommendations like access to a real-time, centralised booking system were “common-sense steps” that could be implemented to alleviate current pressures with accessing respite.
“Changes to the subsidy model so that providers can keep beds available as respite beds would also help to improve the availability and flexibility of residential respite services,” said ACSA chief executive Pat Sparrow.
Experts have previously flagged the high rates of depression and stress among carers and the need to provide better supports.
The recent review of aged care reforms by David Tune highlighted the importance of ensuring adequate supply and access to residential respite care.
Last week the chief executive of a leading dementia-specific aged care provider told Australian Ageing Agenda that greater government investment in cottage respite was needed.
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