The Federal Minister for Ageing, Justine Elliot has proposed a national protocol for community care providers to reduce the number of older people dying alone at home without anyone knowing.

The announcement came at the first meeting of the Ministerial Conference on Ageing, which was established by the Council of Australian Governments (COAG) in March this year.

Mrs Elliot’s proposal comes after the NSW Coroner reported finding decomposed or decomposing bodies on almost 300 occasions in 2006 and 283 times last year.

The issue drew national attention in January when the body of a 64-year-old NSW man who died in his apartment was not found until a year after his death.

The Minister said a decline in family support structures means that community care providers have to look at innovative ways of promoting social engagement.

“Providers of these services play an important role in ensuring that any unexpected changes in a client’s circumstances are identified early and appropriate action is taken,” she said.

“While many providers have local protocols, if a client does not respond to a scheduled visit, they are not consistent or universally applied.”

But the Shadow Minister for Ageing, Margaret May questioned the purpose of the Ministerial Conference, noting that not all state ministers responsible for ageing were in attendance.

“One would have to ask the question, are the states really interested in what is happening with our ageing population? And why has the minister called this conference if in fact those ministers in the respective states are not available?” she said on ABC Radio.

The Minister also announced the provision of over $4 million in grants to support programs combating social isolation.

The programs include services to provide emergency meals, shelter and clothing to frail older people living in the community.

State and territory governments will consult on the draft protocol for community care providers and it is expected that it will be implemented by August.

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