Aug 29, 2018

Government should be “fixing this waiting list” for home care

Everyone says a week is a long time in politics and I think this one has been an extra-long week for many Australians.

Whilst everyone I talk to across the community has been dismayed by the events of the last few weeks in politics.

The chaos and division of the Liberals leadership challenge isn’t just bad for our democracy, it actively undermines policy development.

These events could not come not at worse time for aged care and will further stall the momentum required to continue reform in the sector.

It has been almost five years ago the Living Longer Living Better (LLLB) reforms were handed over to a new Government.

It was the Abbott Government that took carriage of these reforms after they were passed into legislation only three months earlier.

There was a clear plan for the LLLB reforms that was achieved through a bipartisan approach.

The main focus was about Consumer Directed Care that would give older Australians not only greater choice about the care they wanted but the independence and support to live in their homes for as long as possible if they so choose.

There’s been no secret about the desire for older Australians to age in their homes.

Ageing at home was the clear preference of many older Australians during the consultation phase of the LLLB reforms.

I think it’s fair to say since that time little has happened. The Abbott Government couldn’t really be described as a reformer of aged care.

Turn the clock forward to February 2017 and we finally see some signs that the Turnbull Government is continuing with the LLLB reform process by implementing changes, which would allow older Australians to choose and change their home care provider.

The reforms also introduced a national priority queue for the allocation of home care packages.

These changes continued Labor’s consumer directed care reforms which put older Australians in the driver’s seat of their own care.

At the time I said if implemented well these reforms would have the capacity to improve the lives and choices for older Australians.

Like many policy areas requiring purposeful reform, the Turnbull Government’s implementation has been inept.

We know this because there are now more than 108,000 older Australians waiting for home care and around 88,000 older Australians are waiting for a high level package, many of whom have dementia.

For well over a year I have publicly advocated for the home care package waitlist to be addressed.

The waitlist has been on an upward trajectory since David Tune first tabled his Legislated Review of Aged Care 2017 report in the Parliament almost a year ago.

The turning point for the Government should have been at the time the December 2017 data was released showing 104,602 older Australians waiting for care.

It was a time to act given the May Budget was just around the corner and MYEFO was showing an increase in revenue.

And action was indeed headlined across a number of media outlets.

Additional aged care funding and an extra 20,000 home care packages were reported in the media but come Budget night that morphed into something completely different.

After much hype the Turnbull Government – led by the then-Treasurer and now Prime Minister Scott Morrison – did not put one extra dollar into the aged care budget.

The 20,000 home care packages turned out to be 14,000 over four years. The additional 6,000 home care packages expended by December 2017 were also added in to bolster the numbers.

Funding just 14,000 in new in-home aged care packages over four years was cruel and made even worse by the fact that funding for it is coming from within the existing aged care budget.

3,500 places a year won’t be enough to keep pace with demand.

After the Budget the Minister for Aged Care, Ken Wyatt, admitted that the Government would need to consider other interventions to reduce the wait list.

To date, no other interventions have happened.

The only thing that has happened is that the Minister made the astounding decision to delay the release of the March 2018 quarter of data for more than three months.

Due to be released on or around the end of May the Minister sat on the data until 17 August, 2018.

The question he needs to answer is why?

Nothing was achieved by sitting on the data with figures showing the waitlist had grown to 108,456. Equally concerning is that 53,635 older Australians now waiting for care have no home care package at all.

And not only does the Minister need to answer this question but he also needs to come clean about how many of the 14,000 home care packages have been released? Are any of these packages included in the March data and more importantly, when will the Minister release the June 2018 data?

In line with a commitment made by the Department of Health the June 2018 data is due for release on or around the end of August.

Given the Government’s history in relation to releasing data I don’t have high hopes that this timing will be achieved.

All the delay has done has reduced the integrity of this important data. State and territory waitlist figures are missing from this most recent report.

I don’t know why the Liberal/National Government thinks hiding this data is reasonable.

This secret approach adopted by the Liberal/National Government around the public release of the home care package waitlist is at detriment to all of the older Australians waiting for care.

What the Liberal/National Government should be doing is addressing and fixing this waitlist not spending time coming up with ideas about how to hide the crisis made under its watch.

While older Australians languish on the waitlist many of them will not age in their own homes – many will enter residential aged care or spend their last days in Australia’s hospital system.

This is totally unacceptable and does not reflect the original intentions of the LLLB reforms.

Five years is a long time to put reform on hold.

Scott Morrison has promised a renewed focus from his Government on aged care, and this is the perfect opportunity to turn his words into action.

The time to act is way past overdue.

These reforms need to get back on track.

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