Why access to services is very much a safety issue

It was one simple question early in the week at the royal commission into aged care, but its significance is paramount: Should the concept of safety be understood as including access to necessary aged care?

When the Counsel Assisting, Mr Gray, asked this of the Secretary of the Department of Health Glenys Beauchamp on Monday, many within the industry knew the answer could move the inquiry along into new territory and bring to light one of the biggest issues facing aged care service providers and consumers.

MR GRAY: I want to ask you about the meaning that the Commission should attribute to the concept of safety in the provision of aged care services. It has been suggested – this is a suggestion of Mr Versteege of CPSA – that the concept of safety should be understood as including access to necessary aged care. Now, this was something that was of particular significance in the context of home care packages.

What’s your view about that? Does safety include getting access to home care?

MS BEAUCHAMP: That’s a very difficult question to answer because you’re talking about people living in their own homes and have been living there for some time. In terms of accessing the aged care system, I think it’s probably important – it would be absolutely important to look at the safety aspects of applicants and people who have been assessed in the system that their safety and – safety of their environmental conditions, including their home, was safe.

MR GRAY: But you’re not going to comment on whether, in effect, the obtaining of aged care is itself a safety issue?

MS BEAUCHAMP: I think when we look at the process of people accessing services, both residential and home care packages, the risk around a person’s safety would be taken into account in that assessment.

Access to aged services is something both LASA and ACSA state as a priority in their advocacy for service providers. It is what puts consumers at the centre of service planning and delivery, to the best ability of service providers who exist to do just that – deliver services that people need. Yet it seems the Department of Health is on a very different page when it comes to people who have not yet been assessed for aged care funding.

At the start of this week Inside Ageing asked the Department of Health how many calls were made to My Aged Care between 1 July and 31 December 2018 by people wanting to register to be assessed or reassessed for aged care funding.

A spokesperson for the Department confirmed there were approximately 155,000 calls from people registering for assessment or reassessment during this period, during which time ACATs accepted over 120,000 referrals for comprehensive assessments.

We asked how many were people seeking to be reassessed but were told that breakdown of the figures was not available.

In a series of follow up questions we asked the Department if there is a set criteria for people to be approved to receive an assessment, and again asked if the Department has any data that shows how many of the calls were for reassessments, and how many were booked?

We are still waiting for their response.

The royal commission this week heard that many people who are assessed as needing a Level 4 package are assigned a Level 2 package – which may still take more than 12 months to be available.

It also heard that COTA estimated in September last year that an additional 30,000 high level home care packages were needed to ensure people would not have to wait more than three months for care that matches their assessed needs.

Based on the known volume of calls to My Aged Care for aged care assessments and absence of data about the calls, it is possible that there may be an additional 35,000 Australians needing high level packages who are waiting to be registered for an assessment.

It may only take a median of 11 days from when an assessment is booked to when it is carried out (and this is a national figure – it varies from state to state), but how long are people waiting to be able to make an appointment?

There is no question that access to services and transparency of consumers’ need must be included in the royal commission if the industry is to adequately plan for and meet the demand for services not just in the future, but today.

Do you think the royal commission is asking the right questions so far?


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