Appropriate safeguards for people from special needs groups and access to comparative measures of quality must be in place as community aged care is opened up to market forces, the chief executive of Alzheimer’s Australia has said.

Carol Bennett said that while she supported the principle of allocating home care packages to consumers from February 2017, the peak body was concerned about how a more market-based system would operate in practice.

Carol Bennett, CEO Alzheimer's Australia
Carol Bennett, CEO of Alzheimer’s Australia

Speaking to Community Care Review ahead of her address to the Getting Ready for Increased Consumer Control conference next week, Ms Bennett said it was critical that access for socio-economically disadvantaged clients and special needs groups was protected and closely monitored by government.

“In theory, if we have a system that provides consumers with the choice to go to whatever provider suits their purposes and they are available – that’s a good thing, but we can’t rely on the market to correct the availability. It doesn’t necessarily follow that giving consumers choice means they will have choice,” she said.

Importance of informed choice

Ms Bennett said greater choice was also only meaningful if consumers had access to good quality information about services, including comparative information on quality outcome measures. This was a “huge limitation” of the current aged care service system, she said.

While she acknowledged current work to develop a national program for quality indicators in residential care and later in home care, Ms Bennett said progress had been slow and aged care was lagging behind other sectors, such as the health system.

“I know there has been lots of discussion and working groups and some trial measures, but we still haven’t yet got that quality measure as judged by consumers and their experience. Unless you have that, how do you provide quality information to inform people about what they are actually choosing? That is really a big limitation that we need to address, and sooner rather than later.”

She said the success of quality indicators in the health system proved it could and should be done in aged care.

“Every research study around the world has demonstrated that where you do put in place quality measures and they are comparable, you drive system performance and that is what we need to do here.”

On the question of whether funding subsidies in home care should be “cashed out” to consumers in the future, Ms Bennett said there was more work to do be done to put in place consumer supports to ensure people could embrace these opportunities for greater flexibility and control.

Getting Ready for Increased Consumer Control takes place in Sydney on 25-26 November.

Australian Ageing Agenda and Community Care Review are the conference media partners.

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