AS the federal government announces an extra $563.4 million to support aged care providers, researchers say it will cost more than half a billion dollars a year to have nursing homes achieve even basic quality standards.
Research from the University of Queensland presented to the Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety estimates that if aged care homes operate efficiently it will cost around $621 million a year to improve all homes to the best quality level measured in our current aged care system.
The cost for all aged care homes to improve quality and to operate with a small-sized home model would be around $3.2 billion a year.
Data shows aged care homes are broadly clustered into three quality groups, with 11 per cent in the best group, 78 per cent in the middle, and 11 per cent in the worst group. The best quality homes met all accreditation standards, had lower use of high-risk medicines, lower issues and complaints, and a higher customer experience rating.
Those most likely to be in the best quality group were small-sized or government-owned homes.
For example, the best quality group contained 41 per cent of homes with one-15 beds, but only 17 per cent of homes with 31-60 beds and just 5 per cent of homes with 61-120 beds. The best quality group comprised 24 per cent of government-owned homes, 13 per cent of not-for-profit homes and just 4 per cent of for-profit homes.
Australians expect that all are entitled to the best quality level of care in aged care homes. Additional funding will be needed to enable providers to meet those expectations consistently.
The UQ researchers note that focusing on quality improvement rather than cost-minimisation may have wider benefits. For example, better care and quality of life for residents may reduce the need for hospitalisations, and spending on high-risk medicines, as well as reducing workplace injuries and accidents.
The data does not currently enable these hypotheses to be tested.
Another recent report to the royal commission shows Australia falls far behind other countries in how it measures aged care quality and could immediately establish independent, transparent, routine monitoring and public reporting of many aspects of quality outcomes.
The government has no care quality outcome reporting for home care and reports on only three indicators for residential care.
"Australians expect that all are entitled to the best quality level of care in aged care homes. Additional funding will be needed to enable providers to meet those expectations consistently," said Royal Commissioners Tony Pagone and Lynelle Briggs.
The additional COVID-19 aged care fundin,g which provides around $975 per resident in major metropolitan areas and around $1435 per resident in all other areas, was announced by Health Minister Greg Hunt.
The funding is in addition to the $171 million announced last month and support announced earlier in the year. It takes the government's COVID financial support to the aged care sector to more than $1.5 billion since the pandemic began.
Mr Hunt said the providers would be required to use the funding for enhanced infection control, increased staff costs, communications with families and managing visitor restrictions.
Providers will also be required to report how the funds were used in end-of-year financial returns.
Mr Hunt said the increased funding would cover four key areas:
- A third workplace retention payment ($154.5 million) which provides a financial incentive for workers to provide frontline care
- Expanding support for aged care residents who temporarily relocate from residential facilities to the community with an additional $71.4 million to the Commonwealth Home Suppport Program
- Continuation of the COVID supplement to age care facilites to the end of February 2021 ($245 million)
- Extending support for aged care workers in COVID-19 areas to operate on a single workforce basis ($92.4 million).
The payment will be provided through Services Australia by early October.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison has also flagged more money for aged care in the federal budget.