Older people are avoiding accessing essential care services and funding due to long wait times when calling My Aged Care.
Those older people and aged care placement consultants who stick with the call can wait up to 20 minutes to get through to an operator, which often sees older people give up on attempting to access what they need.
Director and private My Aged Care navigator at Empower Aged Care, Nicole Dunn, speaks to the Government service on a daily basis as part of her job connecting older people with care.
In just this fortnight, she has waited up to 20 minutes to get through to someone who can help multiple times and doesn’t think it is acceptable.
She works with older people who often struggle to navigate My Aged Care on their own and said some people, without her services, would go without any care.
“My Aged Care is not just a call centre, it’s much more than that,” Ms Dunn explained.
“It’s how older people access essential services like a carer to help them get showered and dressed or a nurse to give them medication, so if the call centre is not accessible, older people are missing out on essential care and funding.”
The Department of Health and Aged Care confirmed an increase in wait times in the last 12 months, taking an average of 259 seconds to answer calls in the July to September period.
However, the My Aged Care contact centre aims to answer 60% of calls in 60 seconds.
Ms Dunn said the Department had recognised the increase with an automated voice message about the call centre experiencing waiting times that were longer than usual.
But she believes these wait times are not good enough because they are setting up older people to expect a long and difficult journey to accessing services and funding.
“The clients I work with often have a hearing impairment or memory issues or they might now have family who can support them or could be on hold for them, so older people do give up and think it’s too hard,” Ms Dunn said.
“It sets up an expectation for them of how hard the process can be and unless they engage someone like myself or family to assist them, it makes a big difference if they receive services or not.
“[Support is] essential for quality of life and safety, especially at home.”
A Department spokesperson said the call centre was experiencing a higher number of calls and more “unscheduled absences” in the workforce due to COVID-19 and influenza, which has caused the increased wait times.
The spokesperson added that recruitment and retention problems were part of the reason, which were problems faced in a range of industries.
In response to this, Ms Dunn believes a stronger focus needs to then be put on workforce planning to ensure older people are able to connect with My Aged Care in a timely manner.
“I would not have had a call within the last three months that was answered within 60 seconds, and I call every day,” she said.
“The wait times are not acceptable at present.
“Older people are heavily dependent on phoning the call centre and the majority of clients I see are not online.”
The Department of Health and Aged Care said it was monitoring the My Aged Care call centre closely and working to get back to the expected level of service.