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New $34 million aged care research centre announced at Flinders University

A $34 million Aged Care Centre for Growth and Translational Research was unveiled on Wednesday, with the three year initiative aiming to develop research and innovation that will bolster the aged care workforce and ensure best practice aged care in Australia.

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Professor Sue Gordon, Minister Richard Colbeck; Liberal candidate, Rachel Swift; VP Professor Alison Kitson; VC Professor Colin Stirling, and Deputy VC, Professor Robert Saint. [Source: Supplied]

Minister for Senior Australians and Aged Care Services, Richard Colbeck, announced the new centre, which is located at Flinders University in Adelaide and will open its doors in February 2022.

In the initial stages of the centre, the research and work will focus on four priority areas, including dementia care, restorative care and rehabilitation, mental health and wellbeing, and social isolation.

Minister Colbeck says the centre is an important investment in improving the quality of aged care services.

"This is a big step forward when it comes to ensuring the needs of older Australians in care are not just met, but exceeded," says Minister Colbeck.

"The Government is supporting the aged care sector to make improvements across workforce capability, care quality and effectiveness.

"To do that, it’s important for the Government to back innovation and accelerate the uptake of new technologies and research to benefit our ageing population."

This centre is part of the $17.7 billion aged care reform package that the Government put forward in response to the Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety.

The first step in establishing the centre is a new knowledge and implementation hub. Minister Colbeck says the web-based hub will give the aged care sector access to information and products that set out how aged care can be delivered in the best possible way, according to evidence-based research.

The first round of applications for aged care workers wanting to trial new ways of delivering care at the centre will be open in February 2022.

Additionally, aged care workers will be able to share their learnings with other services through communities of practice and open forums facilitated by the knowledge hub.

Research from the centre will be looking into how care and clinical activities are currently organised, delivered by different workers, and deployed in different care settings.

Additionally, the centre will support industry improvements to quality of care by increasing the capacity of aged care workers to access research outcomes to implement in their daily work.

Professor Colin Stirling, Flinders University Vice-Chancellor, says the national centre will allow for collaboration between university researchers, industry members and the aged care workforce to address systemic issues in the sector.

"The Aged Care Centre for Growth and Translational Research will bring together aged care staff and our researchers to carry out projects in collaboration with our industry partners, directly facilitating improvements in the sector," says Prof. Stirling.

"We’ll apply the research through education and training programs to introduce innovations and improve caring practices – because we can’t afford to leave behind Australians who got us to where we are today."

While the centre is funded for three years by the Federal Government, the aim is for the centre to be self-sufficient by July 2024.

Industry peak bodies and groups have relayed their excitement for the centre, which will be an important addition to improving the Australian aged care system.

Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of National Seniors Australia, Professor John McCallum, explains that the initiative brings to fruition the 2018 Aged Care Workforce Strategy recommendation to establish a Centre for Growth and Translational Research.

"Australian aged care really needed this shot in the arm. It has rightly been under heavy scrutiny and criticism through the Royal Commission and needed an energy boost to move to a new level," he says.

"Every industry needs a practical research base and aged care is one of Australia’s fastest growing industries. It has been branded by its regulatory failings which are now being addressed.

"Best practice regulation is now a topic of research around the world and new, safer approaches are coming into play. They focus on the provision of safe environments for consumers rather than providers.

"Applied research can build better facilities, provide better models of care and cut costs while also improving the quality of care. This has been seen in the development and management of chemical and physical ‘restraints’ to allow people to be cared for with greater dignity and safety, for example."

Professor McCallum added that many Australian aged care providers have developed their own internal research centres, which now have the support of this new national centre, so there will be "strength in numbers".

Aged Care Workforce Industry Council CEO, Louise O'Neill, expressed her delight about the announcement, saying that the Council and a working group of its Board of Directors, led by Professor McCallum, have worked with the Department of Health to inform the design of the centre.

"This is a significant achievement in response to the aged care workforce strategy ‘A Matter of Care’," says Ms O'Neill.

"The translational research centre has a key role in driving improvement in aged care service delivery and workforce capability.

"It is great to see that Flinders University will host the Translational Research Centre and we look forward to working with them to support the development of evidence-based practical tools and resources translated from targeted aged care research."

COTA Australia, peak body for older Australians, has welcomed the research centre, as it believes the research will greatly improve on the delivery of aged care to older people.

Chief Executive of COTA Australia, Ian Yates, says, "Bringing older Australians, the aged care industry and the country’s brightest researchers together to look at ways to improve service delivery for older Australians is incredibly exciting and long overdue.

"The centre has identified dementia, restorative care and rehabilitation, mental wellbeing, and social isolation as key priority areas for the centre in its first year, and we’re looking forward to ensuring that the voice of older Australians is central to that research."

COTA Australia is looking forward to working closely with the new research centre to help facilitate engagement with the centre by both consumer and provider organisations, and potentially facilitate partnerships in projects and research.

"Having the voice of older people and their families at the heart of research and development into these areas is crucial," Mr Yates says

"Tapping into the valuable and under-utilised resource of older people who have lived experience of the aged care system as direct consumers, or as informal or family carers, will help shape an aged care system that truly delivers for older Australians."

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