There are calls for greater transparency of newly approved providers and for a review of the approved home care provider application process.

The number of approved home care providers grew significantly between July and December 2016, but the Department of Health will not disclose how many applications it has received or approved since the start of this year.

Inside Ageing can reveal the Department approved 72 new home care providers out of 144 applications in the first half of this financial year, compared to 75 approvals out of 124 applications during the entire 2015-16 financial year.

Unsurprisingly, the sharpest increase in applications was in the second quarter of this financial year, with 25 applications approved in October, 39 approved in November and 44 approved in December compared to an average of 10 approvals per month over the previous year.

A spokeswoman for the Department of Health said there is strong interest in becoming an approved provider of home care but she could not comment on how many applications have been received or approved over the last two months or give out the names of the newly approved providers.

While approved providers are listed on My Aged Care, some industry leaders believe there should be greater transparency when new providers are approved or existing providers expand into home care in line with the spirit of the reforms.

Benetas sees value in the Department publishing a list of new providers as they are approved,” Jeremy McAuliffe, Benetas’ General Manager of Home Care said.

“An increased number of providers makes sense in terms of growing the market and promoting consumer choice. And giving the public greater visibility certainly supports the spirit and intent of the reforms.”

Jessica Innes, General Manager of Home Care at SummitCare agrees.

“I think an announcement of new providers would be most valuable. Whilst My Aged Care lists all new and old providers, new providers have not been distinctively announced like former approved providers who were announced through an ACAR round in prior years,” she said.

“If the Department were to publish both newly approved providers and existing approved providers that intended to become home care operators it would be not only valuable for providers to understand the shifts within the industry, but also for consumers to have a greater awareness of the marketplace.”

Mr McAuliffe also believes the approval process and quality review framework need to be reviewed.

“The current approval process could be compared to a job application, where an individual, or business in this case, presents and frames information in response to the job criteria and role requirements. However, we need to ask ourselves if this is actually a good demonstration, or indication, of provider readiness,” he said.

“Similarly, within the current three-year quality review process, a new provider might not be evaluated until 12-36 months after registration. This means that any quality or compliance issues might not be identified until much later,” he said.

“Benetas believes the regulator could consider checking in with new providers within the first six to twelve months in a range of key areas, to see how they’re tracking, and then follow this with a more in-depth review at the 18 month to two year mark.”

“The Aged Care Roadmap indicates the Government is wanting to move to a lighter touch approach, while strengthening consumer protections.  However, in the early stages of reform we believe these checks and balances are important.”

ACSA CEO Pat Sparrow said while she is not aware of any major concerns about the process to become an approved provider, it cannot operate in isolation from other changes across My Aged Care.

“The Approved Provider process needs to operate in a way that supports the consumer driven market based system advocated by ACSA and outlined in the Aged Care Sector Committee’s Roadmap for reform.

“ACSA supported the streamlined Approved Provider process as it continues to ensure that all providers delivering Government subsidised services meet the required standards and quality provision.

LASA CEO Sean Rooney said that older Australians should have a choice of high quality home care services and the sector can meet demand in a contestable market based system, though does not believe the Department should publish the names of newly approved providers.

“The Department displays all approved home care providers through My Aged Care. LASA is pleased to see that recently approved providers have visibility and a presence within the Service finders within My Aged Care,” he said.

Of the process involved in approving applications for new providers, a spokesperson for the Department said that applications are assessed in the order they are received on a ‘first in, first served’ basis and that to date this financial year, all applications have been assessed within the legislated timeframe of 90 days.

In 2015-16, six applications to provide home care were rejected by the Department and 20 were withdrawn by the applicants.

In the six month from 1 July to 31 December 2016, one home care application was not approved, and 11 were withdrawn by the applicants.

Some of the reasons why applications have not been approved include failure to demonstrate an understanding of the responsibilities of an approved provider to deliver quality care and services and not having appropriate systems in place to meet its responsibilities or sound financial management, according to the Department spokesperson.