The federal government has announced it will roll out another 6,105 home care packages and has extended the reporting period of the royal commission by three months.
Following a request from the Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety, the government has agreed to extend its reporting period due to the impact of COVID-19.
The Commission will now deliver its final report by 26 February, 2021.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison said suspension of royal commission hearings during COVID-19 lockdowns meant commissioners were less able to engage with stakeholders during that period.
Health Minister Greg Hunt, “The extension of the royal commission is in response to the delays due to COVID-19 and the opportunity for the commission to inquire into the impact of the pandemic on aged care.”
As part of the royal commission’s extension, the Hon Tony Pagone QC will be formally appointed as the Chair of the Royal Commission. Commissioner Pagone has been acting in the role since late 2019, following the death of the Honourable Richard Ross Sinclair Tracey AM RFD QC.
Shadow Minister for Ageing and Seniors, Julie Collins MP, said the additional home care packages “are yet another drop in the ocean”.
“There are still over 104,000 older Australians waiting for home care.
“There are no new level four packages for the 21,833 older Australians currently waiting for the highest level of home care,” she said.
“Almost 30,000 older Australians sadly passed away in just two years while waiting for home care,” Ms Collins said.
“Older Australians waiting for high level home care packages are waiting almost three years to get the care they have been approved for.”
Ms Collins said the government must not wait for the findings of the royal commission to do more for older Australians waiting for their correct level of home care.
Aged and Community Services Australia (ACSA) welcomed the announcement of the new home care packages and said the extension to the Royal Commission is “necessary”.
“There simply hasn’t been the time or capacity to properly investigate the solutions to the reform challenges that aged care faces,” said ACSA CEO, Patricia Sparrow.
“We must properly investigate the reforms needed to ensure aged care is delivering the care and support older Australians need, including how we will pay for this as a community.”
Ms Sparrow said more time is needed to investigate funding models. “We’ve only just been asked for input on funding models, so the extension is very welcome and a serious conversation is overdue,” she said.
“But none of this means that urgent action isn’t required. We’re yet to see a full response to the sector’s united call for a COVID-19 response package and the fact that 60 per cent of all residential care facilities are operating at a loss.”
Ms Sparrow said protecting older Australians during the pandemic has led to significant cost increases. “For some providers the additional spending on cleaning, PPE and staff has been estimated at as much as $1 million,” she said.
Council on the Ageing Australia (COTA) has issued a statement saying the new home care packages are still “well short” of what is needed.
COTA chief executive, Ian Yates, says it’s vital to reduce the waiting times for home care packages, and that the government should aim for a two-month maximum waiting period following assessment for older Australians to receive the level of care they have been assessed as needing.
“The 6,100 additional Home Care Packages announced today will mean that more people than ever will receive home care, but it’s still unacceptable that people can wait for over a year for high care at home after they have been assessed as needing it,” said Mr Yates.
“We know that older Australians want to live at home as long as they can. The government must support them by fully funding home care so they can avoid moving out of their local community and into residential care before it’s absolutely necessary.
“However, we still have a long way to go to ensure Australians receive proper care in a timely manner. Even with these additions, many people will be left waiting for more than 12 months before they can receive their high care package.”
Mr Yates said the postponement of the royal commission’s final report still leaves the government time to incorporate the findings into the May 2021 Budget.
“This is a once-in-a-generation chance to enact major reform and ensure high quality and appropriate aged care is properly funded for the first time so that it available to all on a timely and equitable basis – which it’s not now,” he said.