THE federal government must stop “drip-feeding” aged care funding to prevent older Australians dying while waiting for essential home care.
While groups widely welcomed Sunday’s announcement of $660 million extra funding for home-based and residential aged care, the words of National Seniors chief executive John McCallum will ring true for the tens of thousands of people waiting for appropriate home care packages.
“We have more than 120,000 older Australians who have been through all the hoops and have been assessed as needing home care at a certain level, but they are dying before the help is being delivered,” said Professor McCallum, an internationally renowned researcher in the field of ageing.
“We know from research here and overseas that shorter wait times for home care packages are associated with improving the life expectancy of older people and their ability to remain in their homes.
“But people are dying before their time and that has to be our focus.”
The new funding, announced by Health Minister Greg Hunt, provides $320 million for residential aged care and $280 million for home care packages.
It comes on top an announcement in December of an extra 10,000 high-level home care packages – taking the total number of additional packages over the past year to 40,000 – and a flurry of smaller aged care funding announcements since early January.
Mr Hunt described the new funding as the government’s commitment to "continuous improvement" of aged care.
"We're taking steps now but we're also taking the opportunity of planning for the next decade and the next generation," he said.
Dementia Australia chief executive Maree McCabe said while investing in home care was a positive movie, more was needed.
“This latest increase in home care packages may assist in decreasing the waiting times to access the services they need but with more than 121,000 people on the waiting list, more needs to be done,” she said.
“The increase in packages and supplements will also require an increase in the workforce and in their capacity to deliver the specialist quality dementia care that is required to support the more than 436,000 Australians living with dementia across home and residential care settings.”
Describing the extra home care packages as “another significant step forward”, COTA chief executive Ian Yates said more packages were needed to achieve his organisation’s target of a maximum three-month wait.
While welcoming the $320 million residential aged care funding, Mr Yates was concerned the government had not tied this to better staffing.
“It is disappointing there are no conditions attached to require providers to use the additional funding to increase staff numbers and/or support workforce training and development programs that will lift the standard of care in Australian nursing homes,” he said.
“I expect many of the issues and unsatisfactory practices that will be raised during the Aged Care Royal Commission will be attributed to inadequate staff numbers and poor staff training and development.
“While the government has not quarantined its extra funding to improve staffing, as we argued for, I would urge all providers to use it for that purpose and not to generate profits.”
Industry body Leading Age Services Australia said the $320 million residential aged care component of the funding equated to about $1800 per permanent resident over the next 18 months – “especially welcome as a short-term measure given recent reports estimating that 43 per cent of aged care facilities are operating at a loss”.
Mr Rooney said the sector had been proactively preparing for the introduction of the new safety and quality standards from July 1.
He said the April 2 federal budget would provide a further opportunity for the government to deliver on a program that provides funding that effectively meets the increasing costs and growing demand for aged care services.
The Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety begins today.