Let’s start with the good news…
Prime Minister Scott Morrison has recently announced a royal commission into the aged care sector to investigate alleged abuse and neglect of patients.
This has likely been catalysed by the Oakden nursing home scandal earlier this year, when an investigation into the death of a patient found that the facility had poorly trained staff, who didn’t know how administer proper care.
The head nurse defended the staff’s care of the malnourished residents by saying, ‘I was told that’s what happens with dementia patients, they don’t eat.’
It’s apparent that there has been a shocking amount of non-compliant practices occurring in these facilities that are putting patients’ safety at risk.
So hats off to Morrison, who is committed to taking a responsible approach in fixing the issue, displaying qualities of a leader the country has been begging for over the past year.
Alright, now to the bad news…
No government scheme is free of charge
Minister for Aged Care, Ken Wyatt, feels the royal commission is too little, too late:
‘… after two years and maybe $200 million being spent on it, [it] will come back with the same set of a very similar set of recommendations.’
We shouldn’t fail to mention his full support for the idea while standing next to Morrison, who announced that the investigation was needed to determine how ‘widespread’ the issue is.
Then again, perhaps Wyatt has a point. $200 million isn’t chump change. And if that money will only confirm what we already know, Morrison’s move is sounding less appealing to hardworking taxpayers.
But maybe this confirmation will be what is needed to facilitate an effective plan of action. Much the same way the signed petition for a leadership spill gave Morrison the job in the first place.
Pat Sparrow, head of Aged and Community Services Australia also looks past the books:
‘What the royal commission allows is an opportunity for us to have a broader national community conversation about what it is the growing number of older Australians expect, and the community in general expects, of aged care.’
And let’s not forget, there is some spare money in the piggy bank thanks to budget cuts made in the Aged Care sector in the 2016–17 review.
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How much is aged care costing the country?
That’s a very good question, with a very complicated answer. But I’ll do my best to explain.
It’s calculated by something called the Aged Care Funding Instrument (ACFI). It’s a relatively old-fashioned, straight to the point mode of calculation, where a resident is asked a series of questions to determine the level of care they require, and so to, the level of subsidy they receive.
It’s as simple as this: the more care a person requires, the higher the subsidy allocated to them. Nothing to shake your head at, right?
Well, that’s the thing with honesty-based systems…they rely on the good of the people. And our coalition government believed aged care providers were milking the system for all it’s worth, by upping the ‘needs’ of their patients to more costly levels just to get their hands on some extra dough.
What was their reasoning? The ACFI results were higher than expected for the Complex Health Care section of the questioning, while Behaviour and Activities of Daily Living remained unchanged. It didn’t make sense that one section was increasing without the others following suit. Because surely, if one’s need for Complex Health Care rose, then more focused, expensive measures would be needed to maintain a healthy standard of activity.
$9.7 billion out of the $10.6 billion allocated to the Aged Care sector was being used up by this ACFI subsidy figure. That left little spending money to initiate any expansion projects to keep up with our growing aged population.
So, in the 2016–17 Budget Review, it was announced that revisions to the ACFI matrix were being implemented, which would basically made it harder to be classified into the higher levels of care.
The result…$1.2 billion in savings over four years within the Aged Care sector of government funding.
With $136.6 million of this going towards the My Aged Care call centre and website — the ‘…primary contact point for people seeking subsidised aged care’ — that leaves just over $900 million saved from this budget move.
Plenty to put towards a royal commission, so we shouldn’t be too out of pocket.
But this doesn’t rid our hands of the problem…
The government isn’t the solution to everything
Though it might address some core areas of concern, a royal commission isn’t the only measure we should be taking to combat our weakened Aged Care sector.
There’s been talk around encouraging older Australians — those from the Baby Boomer era — to sell off their assets in order to fund the aged care they will inevitably need at some point. And you can’t put it past providers to hike up the costs in order to combat the budget cuts. Not to mention the bad rep they’ll get from whatever the royal commission reveals.
So what’s the verdict?
Well, it’s right for Morrison to take this step. But it is only a small step in a much larger issue, much larger than our government, in fact. After all, every single person’s needs are different.
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