Aged care stakeholders welcome the Federal Government’s response to the royal commission’s interim report but say there is still more work to do.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced a $537-million-funding package on Monday in response to the priority areas for action identified by the Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety in its interim report released on 31 October.
The package includes $25.5 million for existing aged care medication management programs, $10 million over two years to increase dementia training and support for aged care workers and $4.7 million to help meet new targets to remove younger people with disabilities from residential aged care. The bulk of the funding, $496.3 million, has been allocated to fund an additional 10,000 home care packages including 5,000 this year (read more here).
The CEO of sector peak Aged and Community Services Australia, Patricia Sparrow gave her support to the initiatives announced but said there were other areas that government should be addressing now to address sustainability issues.
She called for an extension to this year’s one-off 9.5 per cent residential aged care funding boost tied to investment in staffing, training and other workforce matters and increasing the rural and remote and homelessness supplements by $10 per day.
“The royal commission is an opportunity for long-term structural and financing reform that will deliver certainty for individuals and their families, and sustainability to the sector,” Ms Sparrow said.
“However, there are practical solutions that we can act on now to give older Australians better support and address sustainability issues confronting providers in delivering care.”
The CEO of fellow peak Leading Age Services Australia, Sean Rooney also highlighted the lack of measures to address the viability of residential aged care providers.
“We have told the government that residential care services need $1.3 billion in additional operational funding right now to avoid the risk of unplanned closures, service failures and job losses,” Mr Rooney said.
“Part of this funding should be earmarked for a transition program to assist providers to exit the industry, while ensuring continuity of service for care recipients,” he said.
“LASA calls on the government to follow up today’s announcement with immediate funding relief for the residential care sector,” he said.
Matthew Richter, CEO of the Aged Care Guild, which represents for large private residential providers, said the government has failed to adequately address aged care residents in its response.
“It is critical though government does not forget the nearly 200,000 vulnerable Australians who live in residential care today and acts in the upcoming budget process to address immediate concerns in residential aged care,” Mr Richter told Australian Ageing Agenda.
“It is vital that government fulfil its role as system steward and develop a long-term and holistic plan for aged care, inclusive of both home and residential care. This work can commence whilst the royal commission continues its important task,” he said.
The chief executive of consumer peak COTA Australia Ian Yates said “this package is a strong further step in the process of reforming Australia’s aged care sector.”
Mr Yates said the government’s focus on reforming the sector is overdue and must continue throughout the royal commission process.
“Continued close consultation with consumers will be necessary to ensure the government’s aged care strategy, as it develops, is truly servicing the real needs of the people it is designed to help,” he said.
Medication safety a step in the right direction
The Pharmaceutical Society of Australia, the peak national professional organisation representing all pharmacists, and the Pharmacy Guild of Australia, which represents community pharmacies, both welcomed more funding for medication management programs and staff training.
The announcement “acknowledges the important role of pharmacists in ensuring the safe and quality use of medicines for elderly Australians,” said Associate Professor Chris Freeman, president of Pharmaceutical Society of Australia.
“It is essential, if we are to address the inappropriate use of medicines for older Australians that pharmacists are able to spend more time on the ground in residential aged care facilities and in patients’ homes delivering this vital service,” he said.
Associate Professor Freeman said the investment for dementia training and education was also important.
“These measures will go some way towards delivering more time on the ground for pharmacists to assist doctors and nurses to make the right decisions about the use of medicines in aged care, including when to use them and when to stop,” he said.
The Pharmacy Guild of Australia national president George Tambassis said this was is a positive step towards addressing medication misadventure and excessive use of chemical restraint in residential aged care.
“Community pharmacists stand ready to play our part in improving the situations faced by too many Australians in aged care,” Mr Tambassis said.
He welcomed the announcement on dementia training but said training should also be made available to community pharmacies to optimise access to early intervention and diagnosis of dementia.
“The important role of local community pharmacies in providing comprehensive support to residential aged care facilities and to older Australians living in the community must be maintained to ensure that efficient and effective care is provided where and when it is needed,” Mr Tambassis said.
More needed to improve dementia care
Dementia Australia CEO Maree McCabe said a stronger commitment to dementia education is needed from all stakeholders to eliminate the use of antipsychotic medication.
“Whilst the additional $10 million for training announced is welcome, more funding is needed to train the more than 360,000 people working in the aged care sector. Furthermore, study and career pathways must also be established to encourage people to work in the sector,” she said.
Dementia Australia is calling for the introduction of mandatory dementia-specific training for the aged care workforce.
“Supporting and strengthening our aged care workforce will better support Australians living with dementia, their families and carers now and for the generations to come,” she said.
Unions disappointed by inadequate response
The government’s announcement is a disappointment and provides no relief for older Australians, said Annie Butler, federal secretary of nurses peak Australian Nursing and Midwifery Federation.
“It fails to address the real causes, as described by the report, of the shocking tale of neglect that is the Australian Aged Care Sector,” Ms Butler said.
The government does not provide clear policy guidance on how taxpayers can be assured their money will be directed to delivering improved care for older Australians, she said.
The announcement does not explain how the funding will be directed to the recipients.
“In fact, it is simply more of the same – throwing taxpayers’ money in a number of directions in the hope that the problem will disappear,” she said.
United Workers Union national director of aged care Carolyn Smith said the government failed to address chronic sector-wide funding needs.
“The Morrison government just continues to deal out band aids to this sector. The royal commission has explicitly addressed the fact that workforce is the key to providing quality care, and this announcement completely fails to provide funding for that,” Ms Smith said.
Comment below to have your say on this story