Department beefs up staffing at contact centre over delays in screening and assessment, which has impacted RAS contractors, but says unnecessary referrals are adding to backlog.
The Department of Social Services says it is working to urgently address a number of issues that have emerged with the expanded My Aged Care gateway launched on 1 July, in what has marked a rocky start to the new system of national screening, assessment and referral of aged care clients.
The department said it is concerned about a significant backlog of web-based referrals and faxes to the My Aged Care contact centre and a low volume of assessments that have been conducted by the new Regional Assessment Services (RAS).
Craig Harris, access reform branch manager with the DSS, told an industry conference on Wednesday that high demand at the contact centre had challenged the effective operation of the service desk, speed of referral and quality.
“The end-to-end functionality of what we have put into place is working, but it’s not working to the level that we expect or accept,” Mr Harris told the Implementing the Commonwealth Home Support Programme conference.
Since 1 July, just over 11,300 clients had been referred to a RAS for a face-to-face assessment, which is well below the government’s projected forecasts, the department said.
Knock-on effects for RAS contractors and staff
Low referral volumes to the RAS had created significant financial concern for the 13 RAS contractors and their employment of assessors, the conference heard.
Glyns Webby, director of strategy at Blue Care, a RAS contractor, said the organisation had received only 3.5 per cent of its business allocation for referrals in the Northern Territory and 10 per cent of expected referrals in Queensland.
“We remain very concerned about the viability of our business model,” she told the conference.
Richard Johnson, chief operations manager at Suncare, which operates a RAS in Queensland, said he had been fielding calls from a number of assessor staff and local service providers concerned about a lack of referral activity in the CHSP.
However, Mr Johnson acknowledged that the flow of referrals from the contact centre had started to build in the last week or so.
The department told the Sydney audience that referrals for independent assessment had increased from 200 to 700 per day and on Monday hit a peak of 1,200 referrals.
Mr Harris said the department had recently increased the number of contact centre staff to 250 to help manage the higher level of activity, and had made a number of system and process changes to My Aged Care in response to sector feedback.
DSS had also changed the algorithim for high/low priority ratings for a referral from the contact centre, which was producing incorrect results.
Missteps by providers
Compounding the operational issues, Mr Harris said the department believed that some service providers were bypassing the My Aged Care system, which it described as an element of “system leakage”.
“There are providers who are potentially accepting clients onto their books and not sending them back to My Aged Care.”
Mr Harris said misunderstandings among service providers about the changes had contributed to unnecessary activity at the contact centre, with some service providers incorrectly referring all existing clients to My Aged Care, instead of those that have experienced a significant change in their needs.
A small proportion of providers were also yet to activate their services through the web portal in order to receive and accept referrals.
Mid-September target for resolution
Mr Harris said there would also be a period of adjustment for the sector as consumers exercised their ability to choose their preferred provider in the referral process, which may challenge expectations about consumer demand.
The department has set itself a mid-September target to have the system, process and change-related issues with My Aged Care gateway substantially resolved and to begin meeting its key performance targets.
Mr Harris said the contact centre, supported by system changes, was gaining experience quickly and he encouraged providers to raise ongoing issues with the service provider helpline.
My Aged Care statistics (1 July – 11 August 2015):
- 17,446 clients have been registered
- 11,325 referrals have been made for home support assessment
- 4,470 referrals have been made for comprehensive assessment
- Post 1 July, My Aged Care contact centre is receiving 16,000 calls per week
- 4,700 fax and web-based referrals per week, but forecast 1,400
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