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Aged care sector bracing itself for Budget announcement

The 2021-22 Federal Budget will be released next week, late on 11 May, which will be a telling sign of whether the Federal Government wants to fix an aged care sector that is underfunded and desperately in need of reform.

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Aged care organisations and peak bodies are outlining a number of areas that they would like to see appear in the upcoming Budget to tackle issues that affect older Australians. [Source: iStock]

The Government has been providing minimal spend to the aged care sector over the last few years, using the Royal Commission in Aged Care Quality and Safety Commission's investigation as a reason to hold off on fixing the sector. 

Previously, the Government promised to respond to the Commission's recommendations through the Budget, and now that the Final Report has been released, there is a clear outline of changes necessary for the sector.

Economists are expecting a large monetary focus on the aged care sector in response to the Royal Commission findings, as well as an extension of telehealth subsidies to the end of the year.

Aged care organisations and peak bodies are outlining a number of areas that they would like to see appear in the upcoming Budget to tackle a range of issues that affect older Australians. 

Aged care funding and reform

A lot of the recommended aged care reform from the Royal Commission is going to cost billions to implement and upkeep into the future, which the Government has acknowledged will be the case.

Multiple aged care peak bodies are banding together to provide their recommendations for what should be prioritised and what they want to see in the upcoming Federal Budget.

Suggestions from older Australian peak bodies, Dementia Australia, Council on the Ageing (COTA), the Older Persons Advocacy Network (OPAN) and National Seniors Australia, include:

  • Clearing the waiting list for Home Care Packages by no later than December 2022

  • An independent pricing authority specifically for aged care

  • An increased workforce of better skilled and trained workers to deliver care

  • Require providers to publish real-time data on staffing, quality performance, financial information and consumer experience

  • Initiate a program of independent Care Finders to help navigate aged care

  • Provide equitable access to health services including dental care, medication reviews, mental health services, allied health and restorative care and reablement

  • A timetable outlining when the reforms will take place

National Seniors Chief Executive, Professor John McCallum, says “Much can be achieved in the next year to give older Australians genuine self-determination, hold providers accountable for failure to deliver quality care, to treat those who need support with dignity and respect, and to enable and reward excellence."

He adds that the onus is on the Federal Government to deliver a system that will benefit older Australians and their families when they navigate the aged care sector.

Ian Yates, Chief Executive of COTA, says, "The Government must not delay reform. We are sending a clear message to the Morrison Government that older Australians expect action now."

A group of industry peak bodies is concerned about current media speculation that the Government will be allocating an additional $2.5 billion a year for four years (totalling $10 billion) to the aged care sector, when independent research from the Grattan Institute indicates that aged care requires an additional $7 billion per year.

The Australian Aged Care Collaboration (AACC) wants the Budget to not only provide funding but also deliver a longer term aged care plan for the sector.

AACC representative and Aged and Community Services Australia (ACSA) Chief Executive Officer (CEO), Patricia Sparrow, says that the Government needs to stop 'drip-feeding ad hoc measures' which they have done for more than a decade.

"Older Australians need a much more comprehensive aged care reform program where people don’t die waiting for services, and where providers can employ more and better paid and trained staff so the overall standard of care steadily increases," says Ms Sparrow.

Dementia 

Hundreds of dementia advocates wrote a joint letter to the Prime Minister requesting dementia care to be a focus in the upcoming Federal Budget.

Chair of Dementia Australia, Professor Graeme Samuel AC, says that after twenty years of reviews and reports now is the time for the Government to fund quality dementia care. 

"We have written to the Prime Minister as a matter of urgency to ensure this once in a generation opportunity to transform dementia care and the aged care system overall is seized by the Government," explained Professor Samuel. 

"We expect a significant investment and transformation in the May budget that will make a profound difference to the experience of people affected by dementia – now and for generations to come. These reforms are well overdue."

The group requested funding for the implementation of the Roadmap for Quality Dementia Care, which was developed by Dementia Australia, in partnership with Dementia Training Australia and Dementia Support Australia.

The Roadmap will address three key areas, including improving dementia support pathways, building workforce capacity, and dementia-friendly design.

CEO of Dementia Australia, Maree McCabe, wants dementia to be elevated as a priority when addressing the Royal Commission's recommendations.

"With 472,00 Australians living with dementia, 70 percent of them living in the community and of those in residential aged care 70 percent having a moderate to severe form of cognitive impairment, there needs to be a significant commitment to dementia care made by the Federal Government in words and in action," says Ms McCabe.

Social housing

Peak social advocacy service, Anglicare Australia, wants the Federal Budget to include more social housing for older people who are likely experiencing housing stress.

A recent rental market snapshot from Anglicare found that the current rental market is failing older people, with a very small amount of Australian rental house listings affordable to people on the Age Pension.

Executive Director of Anglicare Australia, Kasy Chambers, says older people are being left behind by the Australian rental market.

"Our Rental Affordability Snapshot shows that a person on the Age Pension can afford 0.5 percent of rental listings across Australia. We’ve been releasing this Snapshot for ten years and this is the worst result we’ve ever seen.

"Couples are barely better off. They can afford just 1.8 percent. That’s nearly half what it was a year ago.

"It’s no wonder the Aged Care Royal Commission called for action on housing stress and homelessness. Older people are being locked out of housing right when they need security the most."

Anglicare is hoping the Government includes social housing in this year's budget; Ms Chambers adds that if the Government is serious about helping older Australians, it will need to start funding these types of homes.

What do you want to see funded in the Federal Budget for aged care? Tell us in the comments below.

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