Aged care service delivery methodology and issues with current research practices need to be addressed before establishing a government-funded dedicated ageing research centre, industry experts tell the royal commission.

The second day of the Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety’s hearing in Adelaide last week heard evidence from stakeholders about  translating aged care research into practice.

Senior Counsel Assisting Peter Rozen asked the expert panel whether Australia’s aged care sector needed a government-funded centre for ageing research, innovation and translational research, which the Aged Care Workforce Strategy Taskforce proposed in June 2018.

Professor John Pollaers, who chaired the Aged Care Workforce Strategy Taskforce, called on the government to act on the recommendations during his appearance at a royal commission hearing in October last year (read more here).

Flinders University’s College of Nursing and Health Sciences vice president and executive dean Professor Alison Kitson said the aged care system needed to first change how it delivered aged care services.

Professor Alison Kitson

“I want to be a bit controversial here and sort of say that form usually follows function and unless we change the way we think about delivering aged care services or think about industry then we will put all this money into a centre and it will just give the same,” Professor Kitson told the hearing.

“So unless we are clear what we want out of it then we’re not going to do the paradigm shifting that we need to do,” she said.

Professor Kitson said there is a hierarchy of problems to solve within the research community.

“Unless we can actually redesign the way we value, the way we perceive and the way we work together to solve this wicked problem of how we’re going to look after our older people in our society, then we will not get the return on our investment.”

“If there’s no investment, that will continue and then you will have kneejerk responses to try and solve problems when they become critical,” Professor Kitson said.

Professor Steven Wesselingh

Putting a new centre on the map without addressing issues would not solve the problems, she said.

South Australian Health and Medical Research Institute executive director Professor Steven Wesselingh said being a good funding body is separate to both being a good peer review body and a good research entity.

“And I don’t think they actually go necessarily totally together,” Professor Wesselingh told the hearing.

Professor Wesselingh, chair of the National Health and Medical Research Council research committee, said peer review and funding allocations needed to be transparent to get quality outcomes.

He said developing a new funding body, rather than a new research excellence body, would be counterproductive, as has been seen a couple of times.

“And it’s quite hard to develop that level of skill in peer review and coordination required and the buy-in from the Australian research community,” he said.

“But I do think that there probably is a role for a more strategic view of aged care research,” Professor Wesselingh said.

Lacking capacity for aged care research

Professor Briony Dow

National Ageing Research Institute director Professor Briony Dow said the proposed dedicated centre for ageing research and innovation was a good idea, but that there was a lack of evidence around caring interventions.

“I think it’s actually a really good idea. I think the reason that we don’t have evidence is that we haven’t had investment,” Professor Dow told the hearing by live video.

“We also then don’t have capacity, a great deal of capacity in ageing researchers and I think… there’s a number of reasons but one is that we don’t value older people.

“We don’t think, as a society, that aged care is particularly important, so it hasn’t ever been a priority.”

Professor Dow said there needed to be coordinating point where all the research being done across the country and internationally could be learnt about.

She said end-users, residents and people living with dementia are the ones that need to be driving the research, with researchers informing how to best go about it.

“I would see this centre as not necessarily funding research but rather having a coordinating role of bringing together all the research that’s currently happening, of having a priority setting role,” she said.

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