The cries of aged care peak bodies, unions and workers have been heard as the Federal Government allocates $3.9 billion of the October Federal Budget towards reforming the aged care sector.
The Labor Federal Government has pledged over the $2.5 billion mentioned in the party’s Election promise, rectifying the former Liberal Government’s Budget in March which saw the sector “miss out”.
Minister for Health and Aged Care, Mark Butler, and Minister for Aged Care, Anika Wells, said restoring dignity to older people was at the forefront of the Budget.
“Our investments help restore safety, dignity and respect of older Australians,” Minister Wells said.
Reform and funding within the Budget includes:
But while peak bodies have said they welcome the contents of last night’s Budget as a step in the right direction, there was room for improvement.
In response to last night’s Budget, Aged & Community Care Providers Association (ACCPA) welcomed the investment into caring for older Australians, but also acknowledged that decades of underfunding will take time to fix.
“There’s no denying the incredible pressure facing the aged care sector, including workforce shortages, the ongoing spectre of COVID-19, and the legacy of decades of underfunding,” explained ACCPA Chief Executive Officer (CEO), Tom Symondson.
“The pressure is not just financial – we have welcomed funding for additional care minutes but there is no escaping the fact that it requires us to recruit thousands of extra staff in the context of record low unemployment and a global shortage of nurses.
“To give older Australians the care they deserve, Government and providers need to work together to fix current funding shortages and workforce shortfalls.”
Older Persons Advocacy Network (OPAN) CEO, Craig Gear, said it was great to see funding dedicated to an Aged Care Complaints Commissioner in the Aged Care Quality and Safety Commission and an Inspector General of Aged Care to hold the sector accountable.
He added while the Budget addressed some key issues, it must now be accompanied by measures to address the issues across in-home care, which often sees older people prematurely entering residential aged care.
“A flexible, appropriately funded Support at Home program, developed in consultation with older people, is crucial,” he said.
OPAN also supports the Government’s continued commitment to funding higher wages for aged care staff as a result of the case currently before the Fair Work Commission.
Council on the Ageing Australia (COTA) Chief Executive, Ian Yates, agreed, congratulating Minister Wells and Minister Butler for their handwork – but he also agreed there was more to be done.
“We congratulate not only Ministers Butler and Wells on their hard work so far, but also the evident commitment of the Prime Minister and Treasurer to this reform process being given priority,” he said.
“Much more remains to be done to fully implement the Royal Commission recommendations and to achieve a world class aged care system of which all Australians can be proud and have confidence in.”
Dementia Australia has reiterated its calls for compulsory dementia education to be embedded in health and aged care reforms.
$26.1 million of the Budget was allocated for individual aged care homes supporting people living with dementia, but Dementia Australia’s Executive Director Services, Leanne Emerson, said the Government needed to build on its commitment to strengthening the aged care workforce by investing in dementia education.
“Compulsory dementia education is essential to the success of all of these initiatives,” she said.
“Dementia education leads to fewer high-risk incidents, lower rates of inappropriate use of medication and more positive staff attitudes and morale, which ultimately results in better service delivery and quality of life for people living with dementia.
“Dementia Australia looks forward to continuing consultation with the Government on these important reforms and particularly the ongoing development of the National Dementia Action Plan which we anticipate will be a key measure in the next Budget.”
To address serious workforce shortages, $185.3 million was allocated to help ease the crisis, with a workforce package of almost $30 million being allocated to upskilling and training frontline aged care workers.
National Seniors Chief Advocate, Ian Henschke, hoped there would be a stronger solution to help fix the problem, specifically by reducing financial penalties for working pensioners.
“… [We] need a full income exemption to fill shortages… letting pensioners work in the care sector without being penalised is a win for Government, a win for the economy and a win for pensioners.”
National Seniors Australia wants to work with the Government to establish a stronger incentive for this problem which Mr Henscke suggested should take place in the form of a two-year trial starting in the May 2023 Budget.
What do you think is a standout from this Budget? Tell us in the comments below.