Minister for Aged Care, Richard Colbeck, opened his address to the Criterion ‘Future of Aged Care: Beyond the Interim Report of the Royal Commission’ conference in Melbourne today by saying that the royal commission interim report provided a forensic assessment of the aged care sector and had been a confronting read for himself, and many in the aged care sector.

Asking for a raise of hands on who had read the full report, Richard Colbeck said, “Everyone in the industry has to read the report, if you haven’t read it, you’re not serious.”

Aged care quality issues widespread

Citing a briefing from Commissioner Briggs upon delivery of the interim report, Minister Colbeck said the commission’s view is that 12-15% of aged care is not “up to scratch”, but that figure is possibly much higher at 20-30%.

Minister Colbeck said that when he hears these figures he is really concerned. And while the sector is telling him that the majority of aged care providers are doing good work, these figures highlight more widespread systemic issues.

More funding is not the answer

Agreeing with the royal commission’s interim report assessment that a funding injection into residential aged care will not alone fix aged care quality issues, Minister Colbeck said that calls from the sector for more money to deliver better care are ‘not right’ and did not leave him feeling like there is a genuine mood for reform.

 “Funding of the aged care sector has to be addressed, no questions about that.

“But the response from the sector can’t be ‘give us a bit more money and everything will be fine,’” he said.

Addressing questions from the room on the financial pressures facing many aged care providers and the cost of providing services to older people with increasing care needs, Minister Colbeck said that the focus of any cash injections into aged care would need to deliver improvements in care outcomes.

“Any injections we make I’m going to want something for. It is not a free ride,” he said.

Government doesn’t want to overregulate

As well as aged care funding, Minister Colbeck addressed a number of other topics relating to the royal commission, including regulation.

Minister Colbeck’s statement that he doesn’t want to “overregulate” aged care, was met with relief from the audience.

While regulation plays a role in improving aged care quality, Minister Colbeck said that the problem with focusing on regulation was that it gets to be about “the lowest common denominator.”

Regulation is also costly, said Minister Colbeck.

“Regulation costs, and as the principal funder through the taxpayer, that cost comes back around to the taxpayer,” he said.

Minister Colbeck said that there needs to be some sensible thinking and peer pressure to lift standards across the board.

Changes underway

The bruising royal commission interim report was critical not only of abuse and neglect in the aged care system, but also of the many years of inaction by governments, a fact that was acknowledged by Minister Colbeck.

He said that while the government has heeded warnings in the report against piecemeal reform creating a moving target for the commission, there are some reforms that the government is intending to address, including the long-discussed changes to the Community Home Support Program and the introduction of a national assessment service.

Minister Colbeck said that changes to the assessment system were met with some opposition from state governments, but the royal commission had said push ahead with changes and so the government plans to do this.

“We’ve had a dust-up with the states, who want to retain assessment services, but we are taking it national,” he said.

The Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety continues, recently granted an extension to produce the final report on 12 November next year. During this time, the commission will no doubt look closely at the important issue of aged care funding, but it was clear from today’s discussion that residential aged care is unlikely to see the cash injection from government it has been calling for in the interim. 

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