As Australia heads to the polls on the weekend the home care waiting list, currently pushing 130,000, is the election campaign elephant in the room.
The coalition has been silent on any policies relating to this political headache, and it wasn’t until a week before the federal election that Labor offered a vague pledge to “investigate interventions to ensure older Australians most at need are prioritised for home care” and “look at how best to improve access to home care packages”.
The lack of decisive action by both major parties to tackle to queue has been “by far the biggest disappointment” of the election, according to Australia’s consumer group Council on the Ageing (COTA).
COTA CEO Ian Yates said the lack of any reference to aged care was “inexplicable”.
“It’s kind of beyond belief that neither of them have been prepared to make meaningful announcements about how their going to tackle the problem,” he told Community Care Review.
“We have spoken at length to both sides. The formal response is we don’t have any announcements about extra packages or reshaping the system.”
Home care ‘not a vote changer’
Mr Yates said the lack of announcements by the government – probably because the issue wasn’t viewed as a vote-changer – had possibly “let the opposition off the hook”.
A survey of 2,900 members of COTA’s Election Panel identified aged care as the highest concern of older Australians, almost 8 million of whom are enrolled to vote on Saturday.
“Access to home-care services and information on aged care are without a doubt among the most pressing issues facing older Australians, particularly in the area of home care, with 69 per cent of respondents expressing difficulty in accessing home care,” he said.
Industry group ACSA said despite establishing a Royal Commission the Coalition, as well as Labor had “ignored” the big aged care issue of home care.
“We have 128,000 people waiting for support at home,” CEO Pat Sparrow said. “There are people waiting for care that they deserve and they don’t want to hear excuses about waiting to see what the Royal Commission says.”
Leading Age Services Australia CEO Sean Rooney said LASA has also been calling for the priority issue of home care waiting lists to be urgently addressed and earlier called the silence on the issue “alarming”.
But he has since given a cautious welcome to Labor’s subsequent pledge to fix what he said was the unacceptable impact on the nearly 130,000 older Australians waiting for a home care package.
“Australia needs an aged care system that ensures older Australians can access the care they need, when and where they need it, and that this care is adequately funded to reflect the actual costs of delivering high quality care and services,” he said on Sunday. “The ALP statement signals a commitment to move forward in this direction.”
Mr Rooney called on Prime Minister Scott Morrison to match Labor in announcing the Coalition’s plan for the sector, saying there was still time left in the campaign.
Now, with three days to go, that’s looking increasingly unlikely.