There are more concerning omissions than positive inclusions in this month’s federal budget including no new measures to fix funding in residential aged care, training gaps or the waiting time for services, providers say.
Tuesday night’s federal budget contained mostly aged care measures that were previously announced and funding for the current financial year, leading to aged care peak bodies calling the budget a missed opportunity to address urgent issues in the sector.
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Aged care CEOs told Australian Ageing Agenda they were also concerned over what was missing from the budget.
Paul Sadler, CEO of Presbyterian Aged Care in NSW, said it was good to see the government’s February announcements confirmed along with a two-year extension of Commonwealth Home Support Program (CHSP) contracts and a small initiative for the aged care workforce.
However, “there is no fix for the underfunding of residential aged care,” Mr Sadler told AAA.
“This financial year’s one-off payment announced in February is locked in, but there’s nothing for 2019-20.”
He said replacing the Aged Care Funding Instrument with the Australian National Aged Care Classification was a small step closer with a further trial “but this feels like a holding effort rather than a firm commitment to change a broken system,” he said.
“The failure to resolve the funding shortfalls is accentuated when the government announces a string of new quality and safety regulations, which may all make sense in their own right, but which providers will have to comply with without additional funding.”
In home care, Mr Sadler said there was nothing additional to resolve the long queue for packages, and while the CHSP extension gave some certainty for a further two years, this third extension provided no clarity on government’s intentions for the proposed merger of the CHSP and home care program.
Founder and CEO of Queensland-based NewDirection Care, Natasha Chadwick said there was little to be happy about in this budget.
“The funding provided in the majority had already been announced … and at the time it was announced it was still not near enough to make a significant difference for the industry,” Ms Chadwick told AAA.
Ms Chadwick said she expected aged care would have been a priority in this year’s budget considering the issues coming out of the royal commission, but instead it was almost completely missed out.
She welcomed funding allocated to government agencies to look into developing quality and safety protocols around falls and restraint, for example. However, Ms Chadwick said that some of these funds would be better spent on training for staff, particularly around rising areas of concern like dementia.
Sandra Hills, CEO of Victorian-based Benetas, also said that she expected more in this year’s budget to support older Australians in light of priority issues to be addressed highlighted by senior counsel at the royal commission.
“I am left disappointed for older Australians, their families, aged care staff and providers that given this time of heightened focus on the problems with the aged care system that the government has not stepped up to tackle this issue more to allay community concerns,” Ms Hills said.
Ms Hills said she was particularly disappointed there was no funding to implement many of the 14 recommendations of the Aged Care Workforce Strategy Taskforce.
“While $2.6 million has been allocated to the workforce strategy which is welcomed, this is mostly directed towards supporting the Aged Care Workforce Industry Council,” she said.
“I believe that a significant amount of work needs to be led by the council and I understand that the council is finalising its governance structures and has started work on the remote accord. The industry code of practice should also be expedited and Benetas is very keen to immediately sign up.”
In home care Ms Hills also said she was expecting government to address the home care wait list, along with unspent funds and a more needs focused allocation of packages, and a longer-term solution regarding the CHSP.
Ms Hills also raised concerns about funding to implement the recommendations of the royal commission after April 2020 and said she hoped substantial funds were set aside.
Impact on strategic plans
AAA also asked CEOs how this budget affected their organisation’s strategic plans.
At Benetas, Ms Hills said her organisation was committed to forging ahead with its priority outcomes around the full continuum of care.
“However, we do this in an environment of continued uncertainty in the sector. Uncertainty by way of policy direction and long-term sustainability,” Ms Hills told AAA.
“Given the minimal commitment to the sector in this budget, a lack of response to the previous 15 reviews over two years and a potential change in government, it does not affect our strategic plans but it does make achievement of these plans much more challenging.”
Ms Chadwick said the key effect of this budget was that nothing was coming in.
She said costs related to staffing and providing higher quality services to meet society expectations were continuing to increase, which would make it harder for all in the sector to make improvements, innovate and provide education opportunities to staff.
“Everyone in Australia including the government recognises the need for significant change in aged care and the way we care for our elders. We need to break away from traditional aged care models, however without support this will be very difficult to achieve,” Ms Chadwick said.
Mr Sadler said as there was no substantial change of direction in this year’s budget, it didn’t make any major change to directions for Presbyterian Aged Care.
He said key drivers remained responding to the emerging marketplace reforms in home care packages and increasingly in residential care and preparing for the new aged care quality standards and the other quality and safety reforms.
“[We will also be] looking at ways to improve scale and diversity of revenue sources to buffer against inconsistent government policies and funding shortfalls as well as to better meet consumer needs and desires,” Mr Sadler said.
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