The government will spend almost $1 billion to help 10,000 older Australians remain living in their homes for longer.
The government’s Mid-Year Economic and Fiscal Outlook (MYEFO) will include an $850 million investment to reduce the waiting list for in-home care, one of the key recommendations of the aged care royal commission’s Interim Report.
In the report, the royal commission wrote that older Australians can wait for years before they receive the care in the home they are assessed as needing.
Home care delay put older Australians in “clear and present danger” of “declining function, inappropriate hospitalisation, carer burnout and premature institutionalisation”, the commissioners wrote.
Many older Australians die while waiting for their correct level of home care, while others move into residential aged care prematurely.
“This is a cruel and discriminatory system” that is “unfair”, “unsafe” and an indication of “neglect”, the royal commission wrote.
The Interim Report recommended the government provide more home care packages, especially higher level packages.
Since then, including this new investment, the government has released almost 50,000 packages at a cost of $3.3 billion.
“The health and wellbeing of older Australians is an absolute priority,” said prime minister Scott Morrison.
“By providing more support to people at home, we are ensuring that Australians, as they age, have greater choices and their families have greater choices.”
Minister for Health, Greg Hunt, said, “It’s an important measure that can be instrumental to overall health and wellbeing and offer reassurance to families that their loved one is receiving appropriate care.”
About 152,000 people are currently receiving home care packages, but the latest data shows more than 102,000 are still waiting for the package they have been approved as needing. The government estimates there will be around 195,000 home care packages released by the middle of next year.
This funding is on top of the $1.6 billion announced in the October budget to release 26,000 home care packages.
In 2012-13, the government spent $13.3 billion on aged care. In 2019-2020, spending on aged care will be $21.3 billion.
Funding for aged care is estimated to grow to more than $27 billion in 2023-24.
The Minister for Aged Care Richard Colbeck said, “The virus has presented the greatest challenge the sector has ever faced, but the Australian Government is moving beyond responding to the pandemic to drive the biggest transformation of aged care in our nation’s history.”
Council on the Ageing (COTA) Australia welcomed the announcement.
“Today’s announcement is yet another promising step by the government towards ensuring all older Australians can live at home as long as they are able to, and are not prematurely forced into residential care while they wait for care at home,” said COTA Chief Executive Ian Yates.
“This investment brings to nearly 40,000 the number of new home care packages funded this financial year. This gives us hope that the government is well on the way to making age care reform a major Budget priority, for which I commend them.
“Time and again older Australians tell us they want to live at home for as long as they can, with current forms of residential care a last resort. However, each year 19,000 people who are approved by government for home care are forced into residential care before they receive a package. Tragically, another 10,000 die while waiting for the care they need and deserve.
“It is vitally important that older Australians are afforded the respect and dignity of being supported to live in their own home as long as they are able to with proper supports.
“The current system simply isn’t working, with many people waiting over 12 months for their package and lots of money being wasted.”
COTA is calling on the government to impose a home care waiting period cap of one month by the end of 2021, as proposed by the Aged Care Royal Commission.
Leading Age Services Australia (LASA) said the home care workforce needs to be developed right across the aged care sector.
“We welcome the new packages – it’s a significant funding commitment – but many more are needed, with the Aged Care Royal Commission rightly describing the home care waitlist as cruel,” said LASA’s Acting Chief Advocate, Tim Hicks.
“We have had a 100,000 plus home care queue for three years now and this is just another down payment on the much broader challenges facing home and residential care.
“We want to work with the Government on a detailed plan to reduce the waitlist and increase the number of high-level packages.
“The Government also needs to urgently support investment in aged care workforce training and recruitment to prepare for likely Royal Commission recommendations to clear the home care queue and expand the number of staff in residential care.”
“With the Royal Commission final report due at the end of February 2021 we must see a comprehensive response not more Band-Aid solutions,” Hicks said.