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Government announces $537 million aged care boost

On Monday, the Federal Government announced the delivery of a $537 million aged care funding boost in response to the Aged Care Royal Commission’s Interim Report.

Federal Government promised these extra Home Care Packages will be available by 1 December of this year. [Source: Shutterstock]
Federal Government promised these extra Home Care Packages will be available by 1 December of this year. [Source: Shutterstock]

The funding will cover an additional 10,000 Home Care Packages, improve medication management programs and reduce chemical restraints, deliver dementia training and support, and invest in rehoming younger people with disability from residential aged care.

In a joint statement from the Prime Minister, Scott Morrison; Minister for Health, Greg Hunt; Minister for Aged Care and Senior Australians, Richard Colbeck; and Minister for the National Disability Insurance Scheme, Stuart Robert, the Ministers admitted that the Government, aged care sector and entire Australian community need to be better. 

“Like every Australian, we were appalled by the revelations of the Interim Report, however, we will do everything we can to build an aged care system of the highest quality,” the Ministers say.

The $537 million breakdown will provide:

  • $496.3 million towards 10,000 additional Home Care Packages

  • $25.5 million towards medical management programs and chemical restraint reductions.

  • $10 million to dementia training and support for aged care workers and providers

  • $4.7 million to reach removal targets of younger people with disabilities in residential aged care

The additional Home Care Packages will be contributed towards the Level 3 and Level 4 packages to allow for more high level care options.

Federal Government promised these extra Home Care Packages will be available by 1 December of this year.

Medical management and the overreliance on chemical restraints in aged care was a big revelation at the Royal Commission.

To help reduce the reliance on chemical restraints in nursing homes, Government intends to establish stronger safeguards and restrictions for the repeat prescription of the psychotropic medication, risperidone.

These safeguards come into effect on 1 January 2020. Doctors can still prescribe the psychotropic medication but need to apply for additional approval of risperidone to be prescribed beyond an initial 12 week period.

The above recommendation was developed by the Pharmaceutical Benefits Advisory Committee with collaboration from doctor’s groups and the broader health sector.

Prescribers of antipsychotics and benzodiazepines in nursing homes will receive educational resources to support the appropriate use of the medication, and targeted letters will be sent to high prescribers of these medications.

Extra safeguards into medication management programs to support pharmacists to maintain frequent medication reviews.

In response to the Commission’s findings on antipsychotics use in aged care facilities, the Government has promised that the “Quality Use of Medicines and Medicines Safety” is a National Health Priority.

The Government is also providing additional funding for dementia training and support for aged care workers and health sector staff.

New targets have been set by the Government to ensure younger people with disability are no longer placed in nursing homes.

The aim is that by 2022, there will be no person under the age of 65 entering residential aged care or any people under the age of 45 living in residential aged care, and by 2025, there will be no person under the age of 65 living in residential aged care.

This commitment by the Government strengthens their promise to have younger people with disability out of residential aged care and placed in more appropriate housing.

Around $4.7 million will be invested into a Joint Agency Task Force (JATF) to ensure targets are met; establish a specialist team at the National Disability Insurance Agency (NDIA) to prevent young people with disability, who are eligible for the National Disability Insurance Scheme, from entering aged care; develop a national database of Specialist Disability Accommodation and Support Independent Living supports.

The aged care Royal Commission’s Final Report is due on 12 November 2020, but the Government says their “rigorous oversight of the sector and reform program continues”.

Industry says more needs to be done

Industry peak body, Leading Age Services Australia (LASA), has called the announcement from Government a “missed opportunity”.

While the organisation is grateful for the $500 million, LASA believes more still needs to be done to support older Australians.

LASA Chief Executive Officer, Sean Rooney, says it is critical not to neglect the severe financial pressures on many residential care services.

“The extra 10,000 high level home care packages will be welcome news for some but with 120,000 people currently on the queue, many others will be left disappointed in the lead up to Christmas,” says Mr Rooney.

“The support for additional packages is a step in the right direction but there appears to have been no movement at all on the urgent risks facing residential care.

“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.

“We believe up to 50,000 older Australians at sites across the country are at risk because of the financial situation that many providers are facing.”

Peak social advocacy organisation, Anglicare Australia, has welcomed the additional funding to aged care, but is calling on the Government to continue building on this commitment in the next budget.

Anglicare Australia Executive Director, Kasy Chambers, says, “Today’s announcement from the Prime Minister is a good start, but it’s only a first step. More must be done to improve care for older people.

“The 10,000 new home care packages are badly needed, and it’s good to see the funding aimed at people with high needs. Now we need action to clear the rest of the home care backlog.

 “The investment in dementia and chemical restraint training is good to see. But it also highlights a big gap, we need to see action on the Aged Care Workforce Strategy. 

 “The Government must build on today’s announcement. That means committing to a funding model that guarantees quality aged care for everybody who needs it. It should start budgeting for this now so it’s ready to act on the Royal Commission’s final recommendations in 2020.

 “We have heard a lot about the promised budget surplus. But the best thing we could do for older people is make sure that everyone can get the quality care they need, when they need it, where they need it. Making that a reality should be our first priority.”

Not-for-profit industry peak body, Aged & Community Services Australia (ACSA), while happy for the aged care boost, will still appeal to the Government to do more, and quickly.

ACSA Chief Executive Officer, Patricia Sparrow, says, “Aged care providers have been urgently calling for more packages, so we welcome the 10,000 new Home Care Packages announced today.

“Older Australians deserve to get the care they need, when they need it. The Royal Commission Interim Report highlighted the size of the home care access issue. This new funding will provide some relief, however with approximately 120,000 people waiting for a package, this will not even touch the sides of demand from older Australians.

“ACSA supports the long-term home care reform signalled today, to create a unified home care program including a single assessment workforce. This has been recommended for some time to better support people at home, so it is pleasing to see a commitment to action.

“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.

“We look forward to Government taking urgent action ahead of the Royal Commission’s Final Report through the upcoming Budget period (Mid-Year Economic and Financial Outlook).”

Peak body for older Australians, Council on the Ageing (COTA) Australia, have described the Government announcement as a “strong down payment” for aged care.

COTA Australia Chief Executive, Ian Yates, welcomed the raft of new provisions announced today, which tackle the use of chemical restraint in aged care and make a clear commitment to reforming the assessment for home care and the home care program.

“This package is a strong further step in the process of reforming Australia’s aged care sector,” said Mr Yates.

“Immediate measures to reduce the use of chemical restraints, including training and regulation, are a vital part of the package, addressing a serious violation of human rights with appropriate urgency.

“We also applaud the Government for strengthening its resolve to move younger people with a disability from residential aged care and urge Government to implement its commitment in partnership with consumers with lived experience of these issues.

Mr Yates says it was regrettable that the government has not yet developed a plan to reduce home care wait times to a maximum of 60 days over the next 2-3 years.

Opposition minister, Julie Collins, made comment on social media following the announcement, saying the commitment has “fallen at the first hurdle”.

Minister Collins says, “The 10,000 additional home care packages announced today is just a drop in the ocean. 

“There are 120,000 older Australians waiting for home care, with many waiting more than two years for the care they have been approved for. There is absolutely no guarantee Scott Morrison’s miserly package will mean these older Australians receive care sooner.

“The interim report of the Royal Commission described the unacceptable number of older Australians waiting for home care as ‘unsafe practice’ and ‘neglect’. The Government has failed these older Australians.”

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