Aged care impacts millions of Australians – whether they are people who use the service, are loved ones of older people, or are a part of the care workforce.

These are the people who are affected when policy makers want to bring change. But what some people from the greater community may find challenging is understanding the changes that are happening in aged care and how it impacts them.

At The Next Phase of Aged Care Reform conference in Sydney, a panel was formed to talk through the changes and the various ways the government hope to improve aged care.

For the open forum, “Unpacking the new wave of aged care reform” the most seniors policy makers that were involved included Hon Ken Wyatt (Minister for Aged Care & Indigenous Health), Hon Julie Collins (Shadow Minister for Ageing and Mental Health), David Tune (The Aged Care Section Committee), Professor Ron Paterson and Kate Carnell, (the lead reviewers of National Aged Care Quality Regulatory Processes) and Catherine Rule (Department of Health).

How can we improve the Quality of Care in Aged Care?

The topic arose of the issues in the quality of care – which is one of the most common concerns of residents, their families and staff.  

Kate Carnell said that there were “two things” that need to be worked on.

“One is better training and the other is making sure someone is the Commission focussing on people’s rights – and then it’s up to the rest of us to see real change on the ground and in the culture”.  

Minister Wyatt brought up that residents are often reluctant to speak up and give feedback because of intimidation and “the fear of losing their place”.

“In some cases, there are staff who give them a hard time if they raise an issues. We’ve got to tackle that. This is something I hear in every state and territory”.

In terms of making improvements, palliative care was highlighted and the importance of allowing people to have a “good death”

Julie Collins, the Shadow Minister, said that there is far to go in terms of palliative care.

“I think one thing we don’t do very well in Australia is palliative care, and getting the community involved and families involved in those discussions needs to get much better.”

“We certainly need to have much better discussions about a ‘good death’.

How do we improve that workforce creating a professional workforce.

When trying to improve the quality of care in aged care, one of the major areas that is looked to is creating a better workforce or nurses and carers.

This, topically discussed, almost always comes down to better training and staff ratios.

Minister Wyatt says that “across the nation I see aged care providers who have staffing ratios that are at a much higher level than colleagues elsewhere.”

“There places had more nurses and carers because what they’ve decided was that their profit margin was not important to them, what’s important to them is having the right mix of staff to support the Australians that are with them there”.

Julie Collins says that there was a senate committee report about work forces that found that though having more staff meant better care, the challenge lies in what that ratio should be exactly.

The other thing that she said was raised with her was “if we had more transparency around what providers staff ratios were, would that help lift the standard, so to speak, with public awareness around ratios?”.

Kate Carnell mentioned that one of the challenges she faced in her review of the aftermath of Oakden, a South Australia facility that rife with elder abuse and eventually got shut down, “had a really high staff ratios with lots of RNs and nurses”(sic).

It was discussed that though ratios may very likely improve the quality of care in residential aged care, enforcing a legislation would be a challenge as there is no simple solution to the problems that many face.

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