Allied health funding to boost reablement in COVID-19 response

Hon Greg Hunt MP, Minister for Health

Allied health professionals will be paid more to visit residents in aged care under a funding boosts for mental health and other healthcare services.

Releasing its Australian Government Implementation Progress Report on the Royal Commission to Aged Care Quality and Safety Report, Aged Care and COVID-19, Health Minister Greg Hunt said the Commonwealth accepted all recommendations from the inquiry and allocated additional funding of $132.2 million across the system.

While the additional funding was welcomed by Leading Aged Services Australia, the report was immediately dismissed by the Australian Nursing Midwifery Federation. It labelled the sector “a national emergency” and again called for staffing ratios.

The recommendations included establishing a plan for the sector through National Cabinet, improving visitation access and coordinating with states and territories to deploy infection-control experts for future outbreaks.

One of the major funding items is a $12.1m extension of Medicare services from December 10 for reablement, and additional payments for allied health professionals including physiotherapy, occupational therapy and exercise physiology.

A 50 per cent loading on the current Medicare payment will be added for services delivered in person in residential aged care facilities for new allied health assessments.

“[This is] recognising the additional time required to assess people living in RACFs, who mostly have complex needs,” the response said.

For existing patients, the Medicare benefit will remain the same however government-funded services will increase from five to 10 a year.

There is additional funding for extra allied health supporters for aged care residents in facilities that were affected by COVID-19 outbreaks. More than 9000 people were impacted.

“These groups will be available to people who need rehabilitation after recovering from COVID-19 or have lost condition or mobility because of restrictions put in place to mange the outbreak,” it said.

Residents in aged care will also be able to access up to 20 individual sessions with a psychologist, social worker or occupational therapist through an expanded Better Access scheme, totalling $35.5m.

These measures will be in place until June 2022.

Minister Hunt said the Australian Government had accepted all the recommendations from the inquiry’s report and was “acting on all six recommendations”.

The national plan for COVID-19 in aged care remains in progress.

The response said while states and territories accept the idea to establish protocols based on the New South Wales approach, the final agreement was under review.

Likewise, there is an ongoing process for independent expert reviews of outbreaks and the dissemination of these investigations.

Infection control officer accreditation remains underway.

According to the report, Minister for Aged Care Richard Colbeck wrote to facilities in October to set our expectations for the role in order to meet requirements for the COVID support payment.

Infection control officers have completed the course, they must be employees and must be dedicated to that facility.

A follow-up from the Department of Health Secretary last month said by today (December 1), each residential aged care facility must have appointed an infection prevention control lead.

By the end of this month that person must have done the department’s online training modules.

At a government level, the Commonwealth has taken over full funding of infection prevention and control experts for training, the preparation of outbreak management plans and assistance with outbreaks.

The response said while the governments continue to work on the implementation, all states and territories have established aged care emergency response centres “and confirmed these centres can be activated within 48 hours of an outbreak”.


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