Aged care is “back from the brink,” Anika Wells told an industry event on Friday.
The Minister for Aged Care was speaking in Adelaide to more than 2,000 delegates at the national conference of the Aged and Community Care Providers Association – the largest gathering of aged care providers in the southern hemisphere.
Ms Wells began her key-note speech by reminding delegates of her first visit the year before. “Standing before you then, I truly felt that the situation was dire … There was a system in crisis.”
She thanked delegates for embracing her call for action to create real change. “All of you sitting here have helped reinvigorate aged care,” she said.
During the past 12 months the sector has been busy, said Ms Wells. Listing some of the key achievements, Ms Wells spoke of the 15 per cent wage rise, the introduction of 24/7 nursing and mandatory care minutes, the food and nutrition hotline, and the appointment of an Inspector General of Aged Care.
The sector’s “collective embrace of the reforms, so far, has been outstanding,” said Ms Wells. “And I hope you feel, like me, that the green shoots have arrived.”
In all, the government has delivered 69 of the royal commission’s recommendations, she said. “And, because we’re not done yet, we currently have more than 100 reform projects active.” These include major changes to “legislation, regulation and allocation of aged care.”
The government, she said, is focused on delivering a more streamlined system. Ms Wells told delegates the two most common words she hears when discussing the aged care system are “too complex”.
Ms Wells said 64 per cent of issues referred to the My Aged Care coordination team relate to confusion over how to access aged care services. “You know this, we know this, we get it, you get it. Consumers get it. We will make it simpler.” The reformed system will be based around “thoughtful design” she added.
Touching on the star ratings system, Ms Wells said it was proving that monitoring the service delivery of aged care homes is working.
She told delegates that, since December, an extra 178 aged care homes had improved their quality rating to either good (four stars) or excellent (five stars). Meanwhile, 131 fewer facilities are receiving one or two stars. “That is brilliant,” Ms Wells said, “and I want to see that metric continuously improve.”
Referencing the Aged Care Taskforce, she said it was established with a simple premise: “How do we get more funding into a sector that needs more funding.” The taskforce has met four times since it was formed in June, said Ms Wells, who chairs the meetings. “And from what I hear from my spies, a fifth meeting here on Wednesday.”
It is clear that the sector needs an urgent injection of funds, she said, “to ensure that we have viable providers that can meet an increase in demand and expectations in the years and decades ahead.”
Ms Wells told delegates they would be very satisfied with the evidence-based advocacy put forward on their behalf by taskforce member ACCPA chief executive officer Tom Symondson. “We may not always agree,” she said, “but we do always pull up short of flinging the morning pastries at one another.”
Imparting good news – “hot off the press” – Ms Wells told delegates that all 11,383 Covid grant claims had been accessed. “Almost $850 million in Covid grant funding has now been paid and the remaining $140 million will be processed shortly,” she said.
While acknowledging that the sector “had not been fixed for good,” Ms Wells told delegates: “working alongside you, working closely with ACCPA, the aged care sector will be its best self.”
“The days of inaction are over,” she added. “Today I’m telling you that we need to fundamentally change the narrative to end the stigma of aged scare.”
To achieve this, Ms Wells told delegates she still needed their help. “We stand at the threshold of a once-in-a-generation opportunity to make our sector sustainable and strong. Keep the faith and, together, we will get this done.”
Main image: Minister for Aged Care Anika Wells addresses ACCPA’s national conference