Department officials grilled at industry conference

During a Q&A panel session at industry conference, department officials discuss workforce, quality standards and allied health.

Aged care providers voiced “significant concerns” around the revised quality standards and asked Department of Health and Aged Care officials for a “clear articulation” of what constitutes best practice.

That was the message delivered to three department officials appearing before a packed hall of delegates on a Q&A panel session at the Aged and Community Care Providers Association’s national conference in Adelaide Thursday.

“The way the new [Aged Care Quality] Standards have been structured is just a rewording and a restructuring,” ACCPA’s Tim Hicks told the panel. “That’s going to require a lot of effort to change compliance systems, but not actually change service delivery very much,” he added.

Admitting that it was difficult for providers to understand what’s required of them, panellist Josh Maldon – assistant secretary at the department’s quality and assurance division – told delegates: “The aim of the review is to strengthen the quality standards and look at providing more detail, more specificity, more objective measurements.”

The revised categories of standards are:

  • the person
  • the organisation
  • the care and services
  • the environment
  • clinical care
  • food and nutrition
  • the residential community.
Source: Department of Health and Aged Care

The revised quality standards are up for public consultation with a number of online focus groups taking place from Monday 17 October through to November.

“In terms of public consultation, we really encourage you to have your say now. We want to hear from you,” said Mr Maldon. “Where are the gaps? Where do you think [they] can be improved? So please, I encourage you to have your say on that.”

Mr Maldon told delegates at the Adelaide Convention Centre the government and providers needed to work together in order to “raise the bar” on quality standards. “So the challenge is on all of us to collaborate in that context.”

Star rating system

Mr Hicks also raised concerns over the star rating system: “One thing I’ll pick out is the workforce component, we’re not counting the full staffing complement in aged care,” said Mr Hicks. “We’ve given you guys that feedback. Again, it’s a significant limitation. Even if we can’t change the legislative requirements, we should at least be recognising it in the star ratings.”

The star-rating system, which was a recommendation of the royal commission and the 2017 Carnell-Paterson review before that, aims to give older Australians and their family members a better way to understand information on the quality of the aged care services they are considering or receiving. The star ratings are based on:

  • the five existing quality indicators
  • service compliance ratings
  • consumer experience reviews
  • staff care minutes.

As previously reported, each area will have its own star rating, which feed into the overall rating. On how the overall star rating will be determined, Mr Maldon said consumer experience reviews will have the highest weighting (33%) followed by compliance (30%), care minutes (22%) and quality indicators (18%)

Final refinements of the star-ratings system are currently underway ahead of an expected launch late 2022.

Quality indicators

Source: Department of Health and Aged Care

Regarding the additional quality indicators being introduced from 1 April 2023, Mr Maldon told delegates: “The intent of the program is to first and foremost support you to measure, monitor, compare and improve the quality of services. They are part of good care delivery,” said Mr Maldon. “It’s really important from a clinical governance and quality management perspective.”

As for how the QI scores will be determined, Mr Maldon explained to delegates: “The quality indicators are calculated by transforming the quality indicators you report across quintiles within a weighting that’s based on the severity of an event, and then we are applying risk adjustments.”

“It’s really clear the situation’s got worse, not better.”

The ongoing workforce shortage was also discussed with first assistant secretary of the department’s market and workforce division Eliza Strapp telling delegates the situation had worsened over the past 12 months.

A report released last week by the National Skills Commission on the care workforce labour market stated the sector would need over 200,000 additional full-time workers by 2050. However, Ms Strapp told delegates: “This report’s over a year old; it’s really clear that the situation’s got worse, not better.”

Referencing the aged care roundtable held at Parliament House in August, Ms Strapp told delegates: “The clear message from the roundtable is that we need to make aged care a good place to work with job security, career opportunities, and decent wages and conditions.”

Touching on information sharing, Ms Strapp addressed departmental transparency. “I think we haven’t always been great at sharing information – this is a whole government problem. We collect a lot of information, and then it goes into what you think is a vortex,” she said. “But we want to be much more transparent as well about what we’re getting, and also helping that to drive change in the sector.”

Responding to a question about a predicted drop in allied health hours under the recently introduced AN-ACC funding model, first assistant secretary of the department’s home and residential division Dr Nick Hartland assured delegates there should be no decrease in the minutes of allied health care, “Our expectation is there’d be no reduction. That still holds … so we’re still of that view.

When it comes to delivering allied health, Mr Hartland told delegates the department is relying on providers to “do the right thing” by their consumers with the funding they’ve received. “They’ve got to continue to support allied health … they’ve got a funding obligation to do it. And we’re watching very closely, and we’re continuing to discuss this issue.”

If, however, providers didn’t “do the right thing”, Mr Hartland warned it may lead to more regulation. “I don’t think that’s really very helpful to kind of lurch even further on that path,” he said. “But that would have to be a conversation if that was a big problem.”

Main image: (left to right) Eliza Strapp, Dr Nick Hartland and Josh Maldon

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Tags: ACCPA national conference, allied health, Department of Health and Aged Care, eliza strapp, josh maldon, nick hartland, quality indicators, quality standards, workforce shortage,

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