The Royal Commission into Aged Care recommended there be a single assessment process for aged care, replacing Aged Care Assessment Program and Regional Assessment Services.
However, they recommended the process remain “independent”.
“That assessment process should be undertaken by an assessor who is independent from approved providers, so that a person’s level of funding should be determined independently of the approved provider,” the commissioners said in their final report.
Aged care assessment teams (ACAT) assess the health of older Australians and determine if they can stay in their own home with more support, or if they require residential care.
They operate out of public hospitals and include state-employed nurses, geriatricians and social workers.
Regional Assessment Services (RAS) assess lower needs patients.
A single assessment workforce must be based on the ACAT model, which is one aspect of Australia’s aged care system that is working well, the AMA, has warned.
However, the government is putting the process out to tender, which would likely receive submissions from private aged care operators.
In 2020, the government abandoned similar plans following strong opposition from state and territory health ministers, the AMA and the Australian and New Zealand Society for Geriatric Medicine.
Apart from the obvious opportunity for conflicts of interest if providers are able to deliver aged care assessments, the AMA is also concerned about a “dumbing down” of the assessment teams, according to a report in The Sydney Morning Herald.
AMA President, Dr Omar Khorshid, has written to the Minister for Senior Australians and Aged Care Services, the Hon Senator Richard Colbeck, expressing his concerns.
“Aged care assessments must remain independent of aged care providers and be delivered by health professionals, especially geriatricians who are trained in dealing with the complex medical needs of the frail and elderly,” Dr Khorshid said.
“A market-based approach is a recipe for aged care service providers to put profits before patients.
“The main concern around the privatisation of these teams is that we expect they would lose their medical expertise,” Dr Khorshid told The Sydney Morning Herald.
“The government needs to focus on the many aspects of aged care that are currently not working instead of dismantling one of the few parts of the system that actually works well and simply needs more support.”
Under-qualified assessors could miss dementia diagnoses, the AMA has warned.
“Aged care assessments are imperative for picking up new dementia cases,” they said in a statement.
“In 2012, 29% of patients were only diagnosed with dementia for the first time during an ACAT assessment.”