The federal government will spend $537 million addressing concerns raised in the Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety’s interim report, but the industry says the funding is not enough to fix the myriad problems plaguing the sector.

The prime minister said the government will take “strong action” in response to the interim report, and will inject funding to increase home care packages, reduce the use of chemical restraints, and get younger people out of residential aged care sooner.

In a statement, Scott Morrison said, “Like every Australian, we were appalled by the revelations of the interim report, however we will do everything we can to build an aged care system of the highest quality.”

“The Royal Commission’s interim report is clear – as a country, the Government, the Aged Care Sector and the entire Australian community, we can and must do better in providing improved support for our older Australians.”

10,000 more home care packages

The government will release 10,000 more home care packages to reduce the waiting list that currently stands at around 128,000. The $496.3 million spending for the measure will be directed mainly to levels three and four packages and will be rolled out from 1 December 2019.

$35m to improve chemical restraint practices

The government will also spend $25.5 million on better medication management and dementia training to help aged and healthcare care staff to better manage the symptoms of people living with dementia. 

The government will establish stronger safeguards and restrictions for prescribing repeat prescriptions for risperidone. Doctors will still be able to prescribe  risperidone but will be required to apply for additional approval if it is to be prescribed beyond 12 weeks. 

Education resources will also be developed to help prescribers better understand the appropriate use of antipsychotics and benzodiazepines in residential aged care. Targeted letters will be sent to doctors who have high rates of prescribing.

Amendments to regulations will make it clear that chemical restraint must only be used as a last resort.

The government will also spend $10 million to increase dementia training and support for aged care and health sector staff to help them deliver best practice dementia care.

$4.7m to get young people out of aged care

The government will also invest $4.7 million to help younger people with disabilities move out of residential aged care.

The money will go to strengthening targets in the ‘Younger People in Residential Aged Care Action Plan’, which was released in March 2019. 

The new targets will aim to ensure there are no people under the age of 65 entering residential aged care by 2022. There are no people under the age of 45 living in residential aged care by 2022, and there are no people under the age of 65 living in residential aged care by 2025.

The government will also establish an 80-strong specialist NDIA team to prevent younger people with a disability who are eligible for the National Disability Insurance Scheme from entering aged care. 

Single assessment network

Mr Morrison said the government will also unify the Home Care and Commonwealth Home Support Programs and create a single assessment workforce and a single network of assessment organisations.

“This will help people to be connected to care sooner, reduce duplication and inefficiencies, and stop a revolving door of assessments where vulnerable older people get sent to multiple organisations depending on the programs for which they are eligible,” the prime minister said.

10,000 new home care packages “a drop in the ocean”

The Shadow Minister for Ageing and Seniors, Julie Collins MP, and Shadow Assistant Minister for Aged Care, Ged Kearney MP, released a statement saying older Australians “deserve so much better”.

“The 10,000 additional home care packages announced today is just a drop in the ocean. 

“16,000 older Australians died in just one year while waiting for home care. There are 120,000 older Australians waiting for home care, with many waiting more than two years for the care they have been approved for.

“There is absolutely no guarantee Scott Morrison’s miserly package will mean these older Australians receive care sooner.”

The announcement “falls well short of what is required”, they said.

“The interim report of the Royal Commission described the unacceptable number of older Australians waiting for home care as ‘unsafe practice’ and ‘neglect’. The Government has failed these older Australians,” the statement said.

Ms Kearney and Ms Collins said the Government has also been forced into an “embarrassing backdown” just weeks after the National Disability Insurance Scheme Minister Stuart Robert said the government is doing “enough” to get younger people out of aged care facilities.

Older Australians need more

Aged & Community Services Australia welcomed the extra funding but appealed for the government to do more soon.

“Older Australians deserve to get the care they need, when they need it,” said ACSA CEO Patricia Sparrow. 

“This new funding will provide some relief, however with approximately 120,000 people waiting for a package, this will not even touch the sides of demand from older Australians,” she said.

ACSA also supports improved medication management and dementia training, as well as the establishment of a single assessment network. 

“It is pleasing to see a commitment to action,” Ms Sparrow said of the single assessment workforce.

She called on the government to extend the short-term 9.5% funding injection into residential care, to offer rural and regional aged care providers a $10 per day supplement, and to increase the homeless supplement by $10 per day.

Rural providers need more support

Leading Age Services Australia said “more is needed to support older Australians”.

LASA CEO, Sean Rooney, commended the commitment but said it was critical to address the severe financial pressures threatening many residential care services.

“The extra 10,000 high level home care packages will be welcome news for some but with 120,000 people currently on the queue, many others will be left disappointed in the lead up to Christmas,” Mr Rooney said.

“The Government also needs to set out a plan to bring the home care package wait time down to less than 90 days rather than just announcing another one-off injection of new packages,” he said.

“There appears to have been no movement at all on the urgent risks facing residential care,” Mr Rooney said.

“We believe up to 50,000 older Australians at sites across the country are at risk because of the financial situation that many providers are facing.”

Analysis by LASA shows those residents at risk are cared for by 197 providers under financial distress, with 142 of these providers in metropolitan areas, 44 in the regions and 11 in both.

“LASA calls on the Government to follow up today’s announcement with immediate funding relief for the residential care sector,” Mr Rooney said.

Announcement won’t improve “crushing workloads”

United Workers Union also welcomed the additional funding but said the government’s announcement does not address aged care workers’ concerns about “crushing workloads and lack of time to provide quality care”.

Carolyn Smith, United Worker Union’s National Director of Aged Care said, “The Morrison government just continues to deal out band aids to this sector.” 

“The Royal Commission has explicitly addressed the fact that workforce is the key to providing quality care, and this announcement completely fails to provide funding for that.”

“Australia cannot wait for the final recommendations of the Royal Commission due this time next year for the Government to act comprehensively on the crisis in this industry – particularly those older Australians dying on home care waiting lists or not receiving the care they deserve in residential facilities because of understaffing.

“There is no funding to assist with the horror stories that chronic funding shortfalls lead to, like incontinence pads being rationed.”

“Leaving 110,000 Australians on a home care waitlist and providing nothing to increase time for quality care in residential facilities shows that the Morrison government is failing to accept the scale of the problem,” Ms Smith said.

“We need more funding for quality care”

As one residential aged care worker said, “The workload has increased so significantly over my career that we simply don’t have the time to provide emotional support to residents like we used to.

“It’s physically, mentally and emotionally stressful, with high workloads at low wages and its turning trained professionals away from the sector. In essence, we need more funding for quality care.”

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