Community care growth spurt

AIHW figures show community care places are increasing at a rapid rate but consumers complain about complexity.

A study by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) confirms that community care is the major growth area in services for elderly Australians.

The Australia’s Welfare 2007 report reveals there was a seven per cent growth in the overall number of aged care places between 2001 and 2006, and this was largely due to a significant increase (48 per cent) in the use of community care packages.

Dr Diane GibsonThe institute’s Dr Diane Gibson (pictured) said there are now 607,000 older Australians receiving community care services, compared to an estimated 215,000 in the 1993 report.

The increase in residential care numbers is less pronounced – there are currently 148,000 residents in hostels and nursing homes compared to 115,000 in 1993.

“It is interesting to note that in the context of a substantial ageing of the population, there has been a 30 per cent increase in the number of people using residential care since 1993 but there has been an almost 200 per cent increase – three times more – in people receiving community care,” said Dr Gibson.

But the growth in community care services has created problems for some clients.

The report said that the Commonwealth-funded community system – which incorporates 19 different programs – can appear “complex and hard to access” for consumers.

It said the high number of programs produces “unintended consequences” like gaps and duplications in services.

National Seniors CEO, Michael O’Neill (pictured) agrees.

“There are a plethora of schemes that are out there at the moment and at the end of the day it’s too easy for people to fall through the cracks between the different schemes or have an hour today and an hour tomorrow from two different people,” he said.

The AIHW report noted that long-term policy initiatives such as The Way Forward are focusing on ways to align the different programs and streamline service provision but O’Neill says community care needs a complete overhaul.

“I think we have seen a band-aid response to the problems with community care rather than any new initiatives,” he said.

“I think there’s a need for a total re-visit of the care being provided under these schemes and news ways of delivering them.”

“I think, for example, there’s a great opportunity for technology to provide that kind of enhanced service.”

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