Consumers want action on aged care reform

The common themes that emerged from public consultations hosted by Minister Mark Butler and COTA Australia will sound familiar to many people close to the aged care industry.

Above: Ian Yates, CEO of COTA Australia (Council on the Ageing).

By Stephen Easton

There were few surprises for those close to the aged care industry in the report released by COTA Australia over the weekend, which summarises popular views expressed to the Minister for Ageing, Mark Butler, at a series of consumer forums around the country.

Older Australians told Minister Butler they wanted to live in their own homes until the very end, if possible, and that they wanted support to stay mentally and physically fit, keep learning and maintain independence.

The people who took the chance to engage the minister in the ‘Conversations on Ageing’ also want aged care reform to happen now, regardless of who wins the next federal election.

A view was often expressed that older people are undervalued for their past and present contributions to society, according to COTA Australia CEO, Ian Yates, who authored the summary report, and any move to generally simplify the system and make clear information easily available would be welcomed.

“There were usually one or two people at each Conversation who expressed concern about having to sell their principal residence but this concern was not generally picked up and supported by the majority of the audience,” Mr Yates writes in the report. “There was recognition by many that this is the norm now.”

Minister Butler said he had heard of “an aged care system in crisis,” from most of more than 3,400 people who attended the 31 ‘Conversations on Ageing’, which were run with the help of COTA Australia in cities and towns around the country following the release of the highly influential Productivity Commission (PC) report, Caring for Older Australians, last year.

Regarding the PC report, conversation participants generally supported the proposal that services be accessed through a single aged care ‘Gateway agency’, although some were sceptical that it would be delivered as described. Consumers also agreed with the PC that aged care services should no longer be rationed by limiting bed licenses and community care packages.

Despite hoping not to need it, older Australians did want to see general improvements to the quality of residential aged care, underpinned by better-trained, higher-paid staff and maintained by a more robust accreditation and complaints system, including stronger penalties and genuine spot checks for facilities without prior warning.

Above: Minister for Mental Health, Ageing and Social Inclusion, Mark Butler, at a Conversation on Ageing in Sydney last year.

Consumers told the minister they wanted strategies to cater for ethnic and sexual diversity, and greater choice and control over their lives, preferring “the dignity of risk” to being mollycoddled like children. In the same vein, many wanted greater control over end-of-life options, including access to high quality palliative care and in some cases, voluntary euthanasia.

Concern was also expressed about the standard fee structures for retirement villages, inadequate support for people with dementia, including younger onset dementia, as well as the lack of a public dental health system, a health reform strongly advocated by the Greens. 

“The overwhelming message is that older Australians are not getting the quality of care and support that they deserve from the current system,” Mr Butler said in a statement.

“For many older Australians, the price they pay to enter care is based on how much money they have in their pockets, rather than a reflection of the true cost of care and value for money.”

“Accommodation bonds paid to get into residential care cost an average of $264,000 but can be more than $1 million and are usually raised through a forced firesale of the family home at a time of crisis. 

“As I have traveled around the country attending these conversations, older Australians have been telling me that they are prepared to contribute more to the cost of their care, but only if they get a better deal with more transparency, a higher level of quality and choice, as well as access to more services in the home.” 

Tags: caring-for-older-australians, consumers, cota, mark-butler, minister-for-mental-health-and-ageing-mark-butler, pc, productivity-commission,

3 thoughts on “Consumers want action on aged care reform

  1. “The overwhelming message is that older Australians are not getting the quality of care and support that they deserve from the current system,” Mr Butler said in a statement.

    Hardly any surprise Mr Butler, especially when you and the Gillard Government continue to short-change the aged care industry with $500M budget cuts through modifying ACFI scores and withholding any price indexation without first undertaking a comprehensive “Cost of Care” study.

    So much of our resources is consumed through Government red tape and compliance issues, yet you continue to burden us with more and more with the prospect of even more mini bureaucracies being established.

    In WA, where we are some 3000 bed places short of where we should be, still after 5 years, the Rudd-Gillard Governments have dismally failed to address the issue so it is little wonder that frail older Australians are staying at home, (they have little other choice) or conversely in a hospital bed waiting for a placement.

    So far there is little sign that your LLLB is actually going to improve this situation in WA or for that matter anywhere else in Australia.

    Mr Butler, you have falsely raised expectations of the workforce with promises of increasing their wages, yet this is being raised from funding clawbacks from residential care and is still light years away; you have mislead the older Australians requiring care and you have not offered anything tangible to the aged care industry for capital investment and construction until 2014.

    Meanwhile due to the Government’s desparate ploy to achieve a budget surplus during a recession, you contine to strip funds out of Aged Care at a time our ageing population have increasing complex health and aged care demands.

  2. despite al the rehtoric about helping the elderly to stay in their own homes you still talk about nursing homes .when it comes to helping people stay in their own home,AH YES ,well the council can help and the charitable instutions ….. Iwould have thought that they have enough to do looking after the homeless and those that have difictulty in paying big increases in utility bills ,the charitable instutions that is . and as for the councils ,?
    because the state I live in is victoria well thats not our problem thats the other party’s problem so ask the other party ,funny seem to get same answer notnb our fault thats the other party’s doing’s.
    thats called shift the blame ,try not to do anything: but be seen too ……….

  3. The best aspect of this consultation process is that it continues to raise awareness amongst mainly Baby Boomers of aged care and all the aspects of care. The more aware consumers are the better informed they are and the better placed they are to make decisions when they need to be made.

    In turn this high level of awareness poses problems for aged care providers as they struggle to provide services within financial restraints while having to learn how to work with informed consumers.

    The issue for boards and management teams in not what is happening now, its how they will position their organisation for the future. How will they meet the information needs of consumers? How will they provide assurances of care quality? How will they meet the needs for consumers, many which were highlighted during the consultation?

    These questions and many, many more around customer satisfaction and the customer experience will cause much squirming of backsides in many board meetings over coming years. And a lot of angst if they fail to get it right. (

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