Australia’s peak doctors’ group is calling on the Commonwealth to fund a quality aged care workforce following the release of a member survey that raises concerns over doctors cutting back on facility visits, a lack of trained nurses and inadequate financial compensation.
The fourth Australian Medical Association Aged Care Survey, which was carried out in November 2017, involved 608 general practitioners, consultant physicians, and palliative care and geriatrician specialists.
The most urgent aged care issues reported by all respondents are improved availability of suitably trained and experienced nurses and other health professionals (67 per cent) followed by increasing funding for medical practitioners (58 per cent), according to the survey.
Almost two-thirds of the medical practitioners surveyed visit residential aged care facilities (64 per cent), which is a 14 per cent decrease since the 2015 survey.
In response to a question on clinical handover, around 63 per cent of aged care doctors said facility processes ensured a reliable clinical handover always (23 per cent) or often (40 per cent) while the remaining reported a reliable handover only occasionally or sometimes (26 per cent), rarely (9 per cent) or never (2 per cent).
Most doctors said a nurse’s level of expertise was required to conduct a professionally responsible handover (85 per cent).
Compared to two years ago, doctors are making more visits to facilities (from 7.4 to 8.6 visits per month) and spending more time with patients (from 6.5 to 6.6 patients per visit), the survey found.
However, among the 129 aged care doctors who responded to a question about intentions to visit facilities over the next two years, more than a third said they intend to decrease their visits (20 per cent), not take on any new patients (7 per cent) or stop visiting facilities altogether (9 per cent).
Just over half of this group said they intend to maintain the number of facility visits (53 per cent) while almost 12 per cent said they planned to increase the number of visits.
Doctors were asked about access to treatment rooms in facilities, which an area that has been highlighted previously as lacking and therefore a deterrent to doctors visiting facilities.
More than half of aged care doctors said facilities never (36 per cent) or rarely (22 per cent) have treatment or visiting rooms with the remaining reporting rooms available sometimes (24 per cent), often (10 per cent) and never (8 per cent).
Aged care GP and AMA President Dr Tony Bartone said the survey raised concerns over providing medical care to aged care residents and action was needed now.
“The current aged care workforce does not have the capability, capacity and connectedness to adequately meet the needs of older people,” he said.
“There must be adequate funding to ensure that Australia’s ageing population has access to quality medical care through a quality aged care workforce. This must be an urgent priority,” Dr Bartone said.
Aged and Community Services Australia CEO Pat Sparrow said doctors had a responsibility to ensure positive health outcomes for aged care residents just as for any other patient they treat.
“With consumers’ expectations of aged care increasing, and funding pressures continuing to bite, it is time for doctor’s to recognise aged care facilities do their best to provide quality care with limited resources,” Ms Sparrow said.
“Australia can only develop the services frail older Australian want and need now and into the future by ensuring we have a well-funded and sustainable residential aged care sector,” she said.
Speaking after his appearance at an aged care conference in Sydney today, Federal Treasurer Scott Morrison said the AMA survey was conducted before this year’s federal budget and therefore doesn’t take new measures into account.
“There’s been a lot of work that’s been done in this year’s budget to address those issues that are identified in that survey so I’d say those issues are a bit out of date…,” Mr Morrison said.
Leading Age Services Australia CEO Sen Rooney called on all aged care and health stakeholders to work together to ensure the system provided accessible, affordable and quality aged care and services to all seniors.
He said providing appropriate care for aged care residents was not as simple as the number of staff on duty or arbitrary staffing ratios.
“The basis for deciding on staffing levels and their skills mix needs to be driven by the actual care needs of individual residents.”
Mr Rooney said the AMA survey findings about doctors intending to cut back or stop visiting their patients in aged care was a cause for concern.
“A priority for older Australians living in the community or an aged care home is having access to quality and responsive GP care, as many have complex and chronic conditions.”
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