AMA: Invest in neglected areas

Aged care is among several neglected areas of health care, according to the AMA.

Above: Australian Medical Association President, Dr Andrew Pesce.

By Stephen Easton

The medical care of older Australians is a neglected area of the health system, according to Australian Medical Association (AMA) president, Dr Andrew Pesce, and the federal government must increase funding now or risk spending more down the track.

Aged care is among several areas targeted by the AMA for greater investment in its 2011-12 federal budget submission, released last Wednesday— areas in which Dr Pesce said Australia’s health system “should and could be doing a lot better”.

Residential care came under special focus from the Association’s president, who argued for an accreditation standard for the medical care provided to residents, and the introduction of better on-site medical facilities and equipment.

“Currently, the arrangements that underpin the provision of healthcare to aged care residents leave a lot to be desired,” Dr Pesce said. “Unless [demand for healthcare among older people] is properly addressed, it will continue to increase the pressure on the rest of the health system, because there aren’t good arrangements in place for aged care residents to access healthcare.”

“If you look at the accreditation of aged care facilities, they’re accredited for a lot of things, like the size of their doors and fire escapes. But the accreditation standards only have a vague reference to medical care, saying that residential aged care facilities must provide adequate medical care to their residents.

“There is nothing specific there to guide [providers] in knowing what a satisfactory standard of healthcare is.”

The AMA president argued that accreditation should require aged care providers to build clinical facilities so that acute medical care could be provided on-site by visiting physicians, with full patient privacy, all necessary equipment and access to medical records.

“Some facilities are needed for doctors and nurses to do their jobs, and I would have thought that in the grand scheme of things, that wasn’t too huge an investment to make. I recognise that most of what they provide is not healthcare, but healthcare is such an important part of the service they do provide.”

The AMA Federal Budget Submission 2011-12 also said the Medicare Benefits Schedule (MBS) rebate for dementia care services should be “at least doubled”, estimating the cost to taxpayers at $150 million per year, and proposed a new Medicate rebate for palliative care services.

“With dementia especially, it’s a high-level medical care item that takes a lot of resources and you need to put the money in now, to make sure it doesn’t cost you even more in the long run,” Dr Pesce said. “The cost of healthcare always seems like expenditure you won’t get back, but if you don’t put that funding in place, governments will be spending more down the track.

“Like dementia, there is a much higher need for palliative care in aged care facilities. Often these illnesses aren’t going to be cured by an operation or some magic medicine; we’re interested in caring for these people at the end of their lives and making them as comfortable as possible.”

Tags: aged-care, ageing, ama, andrew-pesce, australian-medical-association, budget, federal,

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