THOUSANDS of sick and frail elderly people on a waiting list and a system in crisis: welcome to the federal government’s much vaunted choice and control home care system.
While Health Minister Greg Hunt has announced an extra 6000 home care packages for people with high needs, figures released for the first four months of consumer directed home care have revealed almost 90,000 people on a national waiting list for a package as at June 30 – 35,154 of these had been assigned interim lower level care.
Consumer directed home care began on February 27, placing the choice and control of packages with the consumer. The system has come under criticism for its complexity and the fees being charged by some providers.
The Home Care Package Program Data Report shows there were 38,018 approvals for home care between February 27 and June 30, with about a quarter being high priority and three-quarters medium priority. A total of 47,729 packages were assigned.
“Shocking and simply unacceptable” is how opposition spokesperson for ageing, Helen Polley, described the figures.
“Labor called for an investment in additional packages back in May,” Ms Polley said.
“The lack of detail around how the packages will be funded or when they will be released also raises alarm bells.”
While welcoming the extra packages, advocacy group Council on the Ageing said the government needed to turn its attention to a longer term solution.
“This report reveals a shortfall in the number of home care packages and a misallocation between lower and higher levels of packages, far greater than expected,” said chief executive Ian Yates.
“That’s nearly 90,000 elderly Australians going without any or enough physiotherapy, or home help, or support for showering and other personal care or transport to appointments.
“As a result, older people either suffer, waiting, or additional pressures are placed on families and neighbours to fill the gaps.”
Leading Age Services Australia, which represents aged services providers, has been scathing of several aspects of the new home care system.
It said there were a number of barriers for people trying to get a package, including long delays for an assessment (some Victorian providers complained of delays up to 16 weeks and in parts of Queensland as much 24 weeks), too few packages, and low activation of packages once allocated.
The national queue system and allocation of lower level packages to those with high needs could lead to a speedier decline in the person’s condition and independence, resulting in earlier admission to residential care.
Other problems included some clients who had been placed on an interim Commonwealth Home Support Program refusing to activate their home care package where they would need to pay fees. (The home support program allows access to extra services such as an oxygen supplement, a continence aids payment and transport assistance.)
Providers were also having problems receiving correct payments from the Aged Care Payment system and clients were having their packages incorrectly withdrawn. One provider reported an accumulated unpaid amount of almost $125,000.
“Change on the scale of the Increasing Choice in Home Care program is significant and challenges have been revealed in implementation,” said Leading Aged Services Australia chief executive Sean Rooney.
“For many providers and their existing clients there has been little change in the delivery of services. However, the identified implementation issues are making it difficult for some providers to meet the needs of new or transitioning clients.”