Aged Care Services Minister Richard Colbeck has informed aged care providers they will no longer receive funding specifically earmarked for allied health services, such as physiotherapy.
“The federal government believes aged care homes are wasting money on allied health services such as physiotherapists, which will no longer be directly funded under new rules,” The Sydney Morning Herald reports.
Aged care providers are delivering treatments “that are not necessarily the most clinically appropriate”, according to the letter seen by SMH, owned by media company Nine.
Studies show that mobility programs led by physiotherapists can reduce the number of falls in aged care by more than half (55%).
In their final report, the Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety said, “People in aged care have limited access to services from allied health professionals.”
“Allied health care in residential aged care is … insufficient and we are concerned that the type of service provided may be influenced by funding arrangements.”
They recommended that allied health services be provided in residential aged care “appropriate to each person’s needs … no later than 1 July 2022”.
“The Federal Government has chosen not to act on all of the recommendations from the Royal Commission,” said a statement from the Australian Physiotherapy Association.
Under the government’s new funding model, it will be up to aged care providers to decide if allied health treatments are necessary.
Paul Sadler, chief executive of not-for-profit aged care provider peak body Aged and Community Services Australia (ACSA), told Nine some providers may be “over-servicing” residents, but the government’s new proposal risks swinging the pendulum “from one extreme to the other”.
“We do need a proper funding model for allied health,” Mr Sadler said.
In a webinar held last Friday, a Health Department official said data from providers would be analysed to ensure they are still providing allied health services to residents.
Research by aged care accountancy firm, StewartBrown, reveals aged care providers spend about $830 million a year on allied health, but the federal government allocated only $27.9 million in its emergency response to COVID to allied health.
The Australian Physiotherapy Association (APA) said the report highlights the “alarming approach” the Morrison government is taking to reforming the aged care sector.
The decisions the government are making will ultimately “lead to poorer quality of care for our most vulnerable people,” the statement said.
“Lifestyle officers, which may replace many allied health services, are neither qualified nor equipped to provide for the complex needs of elderly Australians.”
Aged Care Services Minister Richard Colbeck must produce evidence that physiotherapists are “over servicing” in aged care homes, the statement said.
The APA has asked the government to work with them “to ensure that physiotherapy services in aged care are appropriate and optimised to improve quality of life”.
“Physiotherapy is an integral part of the aged care team that ensures quality care and support, and enhances health and wellbeing of older people in residential aged care.
“Robbing aged care residents of these essential services will have a significant impact on their quality of life,” the statement said.
“We must have properly funded residential aged care. Cost cutting reduces the level and quality of care for frail, elderly Australians.”
The APA expressed its willingness to work with the federal government to ensure older people in residential care have equitable access to timely, high quality and needs-based care, including physiotherapy.
Independent Senator for South Australia, Rex Patrick, described it best, when he shared the following Tweet:
“The Royal Commission found an absence of 24/7 nurses in aged care facilities was harmful – @ScottMorrisonMP hasn’t acted to get them. The RC found the presence of physiotherapists was helpful – he’s acted to get rid of them. It’s nonsense on stilts.”
The Royal Commission found an absence of 24/7 nurses in aged care facilities was harmful – @ScottMorrisonMP hasn’t acted to get them. The RC found the presence of physiotherapists was helpful – he’s acted to get rid of them. It’s nonsense on stilts #auspol https://t.co/NRI88NL9tG
— Rex Patrick (@Senator_Patrick) March 19, 2022
Meanwhile, Minister for Senior Australians and Aged Care Services, Richard Colbeck, told HelloCare the existing Aged Care Funding Instrument (ACFI) will be rolled into the new AN‑ACC funding allocation from 1 October 2022.
Providers will still be “funded for and required to provide allied health services to residents in accordance with their obligations under the Aged Care Act,” he said.
The September 2021 StewartBrown survey identified that allied health services costs were 4% of the total care costs for providers.
“This would mean that approximately $700 million per annum is available to providers under AN-ACC to spend on allied health services,” Minister Colbeck said.
“Under the AN‑ACC, providers can invest in restorative care services, including … allied health, if it is in the best interest of the resident.”
Providers were required to report on the care time delivered by allied health professionals at the facility level from the 2020-21 financial year, as well as quarterly from July 2022.
“This will give visibility over the use of allied health services, such as physiotherapy, during the transition to AN-ACC and inform future policy decisions,” Minister Colbeck stated.
“Ultimately, the reforms will increase access and makes sure it meets the needs of the resident.
“Providers will be required to offer care in keeping with the resident’s assessed needs and the quality of that care will be reflected in the publicly reported star rated system.
“This will include consumer experience outcomes, any regulatory activity undertaken by the Aged Care Quality and Safety Commission, the care minutes being provided to senior Australians, and service reporting against quality indicators.”