Most people would be surprised to discover that doctors are traditionally not counted as part of the aged care sector workforce.

The AMA has long argued that this is a massive oversight, particularly in residential aged care. It would be like not counting doctors as part of the hospital workforce.

Older people tend to have complex and chronic health problems that need regular medical attention, and quality nursing care.

GPs, as the coordinators of care, prevent more expensive downstream costs, including visits to emergency departments and hospital admissions.

Early treatment by a GP can head off a hospital visit, which is a much better outcome for both the individual patient and the overstretched public health system.

The AMA is pleased that the Senate Community Affairs References Committee’s Report on its Inquiry into the future of Australia’s aged care sector workforce has adopted several of the AMA’s recommendations.

The Committee has made 19 recommendations, including that the National Aged Care Workforce Strategy Taskforce should consider the role of medical and allied health practitioners in aged care.

It has also recommended that the Government should address the issue of staff shortages, and has endorsed the call that there should be a minimum number of registered and enrolled nursing staff on duty at all times – highlighted originally by the Australian Nursing and Midwifery Federation and backed by the AMA.

The Report also recommends developing a nationally consistent standard for accreditation and training, and that the Government should provide support mechanisms to address the barriers to training, including costs, in the sector.

In our submission, the AMA pointed out that many aged care staff do not have the appropriate training to properly handle the major issues facing older Australians.

They are not trained to handle behavioural conditions, to prevent falls and pressure sores, nor to manage pain properly. This lack of training leads to an increase in the use of medication and restraints.

There is still much more work to be done, particularly around reviewing Medicare items for GP consultations with aged care residents or patients living in the community who are immobile. This would also include telehealth and after-hours access to care.

Red tape must be reduced and processes streamlined to improve access to respite care for people who have not yet been assessed by an Aged Care Assessment Team, which can take months, or who have not yet entered the aged care system.

Delays in accessing respite care cause great distress for patients and their carers, and sometimes the only option is to admit the patient to hospital in order to give their carer some relief.

Appropriate and accredited training places for doctors in aged care facilities are needed, so that education about caring for the aged becomes part of routine medical practice.

Residential aged care facilities should have adequately equipped clinical treatment rooms, so that elderly Australians have access to the same quality of care, and privacy that is available in a doctor’s surgery.

But the Committee’s recommendations are a promising start to developing a national aged care workforce strategy.

The Report can be read HERE

The AMA’s submission can be read HERE

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