Aged care reform sparks passionate debate

National Seniors Australia canvassed public opinion on aged care reform at a forum in Melbourne last week.

Above: Liz Curran from National Seniors Australia addresses interested consumers in Melbourne.

By Helen Lobato

How Australia funds its aged care sector, regulates the industry and ensures access to quality care services were among the issues debated at a forum in Melbourne last week.

The event was hosted by National Seniors Australia to gauge public concern over the Productivity Commission’s draft report into aged care, released in January this year.

The report, Caring for Older Australians, noted Australia’s ageing population and that the ratio of people over 70 to those aged 15-64 will have doubled by 2050. It is expected that government spending on aged care will need to increase from 0.8 to 1.8 per cent of GDP over the period 2010 to 2050.

National Seniors Australia general manager of policy and research, Peter Matwijiw, called on the collective wisdom of the 90 people present at the Melbourne Town Hall:

“We need to hear your concerns about reforming the aged care system. We have performed a miracle and condensed the 507-page Productivity Commission’s draft report into a double-sided piece of paper, and now we need your experience.”

Attending the forum were aged and community care nurses, policymakers, relatives and consumers who spent the next hour and a half debating the funding of aged care, its regulation, and the issue of access and support.

How Australia pays for its aged care goes to the heart of the draft report with the Commission proposing to deregulate the present system, which could see the family home mortgaged to pay the bill. National Seniors members felt that the family home was ‘sacrosanct’ but said that if it was no longer exempt from the asset test, then the care provided would need to improve.

Quality care including nourishing food is a particular concern for Caroline Sevcikova. The former aged care caterer was scolded by her employers for ‘spoiling’ residents whenever she supplemented the prescribed menu. Sevcikova suggests that nursing homes should not be warned of impending accreditation visits. “Come accreditation day the meals are so much better, and there are flowers everywhere,” she said.

Concerns were raised about the wages and working conditions for the staff of residential care facilities. At present, nurses working in aged care are paid up to $300 a week less than their colleagues in the health sector. This disparity in wages means that there is a shortage of staff to care for ageing Australians. As the number of people aged 85 and over is projected to more than quadruple over the next 40 years, this chronic staff shortage coupled with a decreasing number of informal carers points to a need for change.

The commission’s recommendation that the current system of discrete care packages be replaced with a single, integrated, flexible system of care provision proved popular with attendees. However, there were concerns that a single entry system may be more difficult to manage for consumers with complex needs, such as those with mental health issues.

Less than 10% of older Australians live in aged care homes with the majority remaining in private dwellings; most people want to age at home and receive care in their community. Uniting Care community worker, Jo Rodger, called for improved funding for the community sector.

“I want to see community care packages made more accessible and equitable,” Ms Rodger said. “Baby boomers will want to stay at home and not go into nursing homes.”

The passion and concern amongst the public was palpable and, as the forum drew to a close, National Seniors director of policy, Liz Curran, thanked the participants for their time and input. “You are critical to our work, and we need your support to improve the aged care system,” she said, adding that National Seniors Australia would consider the concerns expressed at the forum in their submission to the Productivity Commission, due on 21 March. The commission’s final report is expected in June. 

Tags: aged, aged-care, ageing, caring-for-older-australians, draft-report, liz-curran, national-seniors, pc-report, productivity-commission, uniting-care,

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