In late May, the Australian Government very quietly responded to the Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety’s recommendations.
The Australian Government’s response complemented its Budget night announcement to inject $17.7bn over four years into the aged care sector.
I am pleased the sector is finally getting the attention and funding it deserves so there can be real and lasting change.
The funding package is what older and vulnerable Australians deserve and need, as it will help deliver better care and services, however, it has been a long time coming and must be the first of many well-conceived, outcomes-driven steps.
The allocation of $6.5b for 80,000 new care packages over the next two years for senior Australians who want to remain at home is a fantastic start, however, it does fall short, considering there are more than 100,000 older Australians currently waiting for home care packages.
The decision to mandate more care minutes per day for care recipients, fund training opportunities for existing aged care workers and help more people to enter the industry are great initiatives, however, more is needed.
In total the Royal Commission made 148 recommendations. Pleasingly, the Australian Government supported the majority of them, however, there were a number of rubbery responses.
- The new Aged Care Act, set to come into force in July 2023, will legislate increased reporting and monitoring requirements for aged care providers. This relates to both operational and financial information.
- The new Act will impose a statutory duty on providers to ensure care is of high quality.
- Aged Care Quality and Safety Commission will be abolished, with a new independent Aged Care Safety and Quality Authority to be established (overseen by a 5-member board).
- An urgent review of the Aged Care Quality Standards will be undertaken by 15 July 2021.
- The Australian Government is backing a new support at home program, which is intended to commence from July 2023, following sector consultation and further model development.
- The Australian Government will provide an additional $6.48 billion over the forward estimates to release 80,000 additional home care packages (40,000 in 2021-22 and 40,000 in 2022-23).
- An independent pricing authority will be established, however final aged care pricing decisions are up to the Minister for Health.
- The Australian Government is leaving the issue of aged care worker remuneration up to the Fair Work Commission.
- Increased funding of $10 per day Government Basic Daily Fee Supplement.
- Primary Health Networks will receive greater government funding to assist with planning for aged care needs, as well as to provide support for palliative and telehealth services.
- Aged care providers will receive a star rating, which will be displayed on the My Aged Care website.
- The Aged Care Quality and Safety Commissioner will have broader powers.
- Additional funding will be provided to support services that meet the recommended minimum 200-minute care time standard. A registered nurse will also be required on site for 16 hours a day.
- $5.4 million to develop online training for nurses and personal care workers to update their skills.
- National Design Standards for Residential Aged Care to be developed (e.g. making traditional facilities dementia friendly etc.)
- The Government supports immediate funding for education and training of aged care workers.
- The Australian Government supports the Government-led departmental governance model proposed by Commissioner Briggs.
- The Australian Government has rejected the Commissioners recommendation for a Productivity Commission investigation of the aged care system through an Aged Care Levy.
- The Australian Government also rejected Commissioner Briggs’ recommendation of the introduction of a new earmarked Aged Care Improvement Levy.
Australia spends approximately 1.2 per cent of its GDP on aged care compared with the OECD average of 2.5 per cent.
While the Australian Government’s response answers many questions, a funding framework which details how the nation will appropriately fund aged care into the future remains unanswered.
There is no disputing the additional 17.7bn over the next four years is a great start, but it’s not enough for a sector which has been on its knees for the best part of two decades.
I hope in years to come the 2021 Budget and the Australian Government’s response to the Royal Commission are not remembered as blips, but rather the line in the sand which kickstarted the sector’s transformation.