The need for greater transparency, continued bipartisanship and faster action in getting on with the aged care reforms, has been emphasised by the Shadow Minister for Ageing and Mental Health in a keynote address to industry leaders.
Speaking at the Next Phase of Aged Care Reform Conference in Sydney last week, Labor MP Julie Collins said that while some progress has been made since the 2012 reforms were announced, there is still a long way to go and consumers are suffering.
“The Legislative Review rightfully acknowledges these achievements. What it also does, however, is provide a clear picture of a service sector that is right in the middle of a transition,” she said.
“And at this stage of the transition the system continues to let some people down.”
“The overwhelming message that I have received from older Australians and from those involved in the aged care sector, through the undertaking of the Legislated Review and since its release, is that it is time to commit to a path of further reform – and to get on with it!”
Ms Collins said she was concerned the legislative review will become “a document that is used as a buffer for the Government to avoid making the decisions that will be necessary to see our aged care system fully evolve”.
“Over the past four years, we have seen billions of dollars taken out of the aged care system in Australia, three Ministers for the portfolio and while I have great respect for the Minister here – we really need to get on with reform,” she said.
“I know that many of you as key players in the aged care sector have significant good will when it comes to having the discussions around what measures we must embrace to see the changes our system needs.”
“Conversely, I also know that you are growing increasingly frustrated by the lack of urgency, the lack of direction and the lack of transparency and openness when it comes to the ongoing reform journey.”
“I hear it every week from residential care providers who are struggling with financial uncertainty about the future.”
“Financial uncertainty at a time when providers are trying to make significant investment decisions around the provision of beds and investment in workforce for a rapidly growing number of consumers.”
“I hear it from providers of home care packages who spend hours every day explaining to potential clients that they can’t provide them service, despite being found to be eligible, because they haven’t yet been allocated a package.”
“I hear it from RAS providers who want to embrace the recommendations to move to a single assessment framework and workforce and deliver a more integrated, more accessible assessment process that focuses on reablement, but can’t even get an in-principle commitment from the Government that it will deliver on this approach.”
“I heard it recently when I was contacted by a Commonwealth Home Support Program provider that has vulnerable people waiting more than 12 months to access basic services likes domestic assistance, transport and social support.”
“A situation that the Department acknowledged in Senate Estimates last week is being exacerbated by people refusing to take up Level 1 Home Care Packages because of the lack of consistency in the consumer contribution framework.”
Ms Collins said the Tune review acknowledges many of the recommendations are similar to proposals set out in the Aged Care Roadmap but questioned why the Roadmap that was delivered to Government two and half years ago appears to have been parked.
“Since that time we’ve had a total of six reports and reviews presented to government on issues ranging from ACFI, to workforce development, quality and everything in between,” she said.
“We’ve had initial positive responses from Government on all of these things – accepting the general flavour of the reports and committing to ‘do more work’ to take the next steps.”
“Unfortunately the next steps either haven’t eventuated, or have been replaced by more reviews and more reports.”
“Again, when it came to the release of the Review of National Aged Care Quality Regulatory Processes, last week, the Government committed to just one of ten recommendations and promised to do more work on the rest of the report.”
“We should also acknowledge that the Government has had this report for some time.”
Ms Collins said Labor supports the response to remove announced site visits and focus on increasing unannounced compliance visits is a positive response but that more of the recommendations should be adopted.
“What it is not, however, is a commitment to move swiftly to adopt the broader recommendations and a plan to immediately address the clear deficiencies in the residential aged care quality and compliance framework – deficiencies that are unfairly threatening to seriously undermine the public perception of the entire sector.”
“The ad hoc approach to reform can also been seen in the Government’s response to the 66,000 plus wait list of vulnerable older Australians who are unable to access a level three or four Home Care Package, despite being approved to have one.”
Ms Collins said the response of converting lower level packages to higher level packages to start reducing the wait list is sensible but it doesn’t provide a long-term answer to the impact this will have on the provision ratio of removing 17,000 level 1 and 2 packages to fund the measure.
Nor is it a plan to address the broader undersupply of packages and the problems with delays in ACAT assessments, she said.
“My clear message from the Legislated Review of Aged Care is that it is time to commit to what we are going to do,” Ms Collins said.
“Aged Care reform has been bipartisan in the past and it is only by having a clear direction to lift the standard and quality of care that we will truly make Australia the best place in the world to age.”