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Aged care building as an election battleground

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Opposition Leader Bill Shorten recently used an appearance on ABC’s Q&A program to declare aged care is in a fundamental state of crisis and that he aims to make it a central national issue.

Mr Shorten said if the aged care system was not adequately funded at the national level, it was simply being set up to fail.

“It is a problem. It is a crisis,” he said. 

“We need to sit down as a nation. Forget the politics, take off your Liberal hat or your Labor hat when you walk in the door, and start talking about how we properly fund aged care.”

The Government maintains that the latest Budget has seen a considerable boost in the overall spend for aged care, increasing from $18 billion a year to $23 billion over four years.

However, the Opposition believes that the Government has cut $2 billion from aged care by moving money from residential care and reallocating it to home care.

Speaking in Adelaide following the Q&A program, Mr Shorten said that there were many things to do to help improve aged care, and he has not ruled out a Royal Commission.

“We’ve got to make sure that aged care staff are valued, paid properly and properly trained. Two, we’ve got to make sure that the promises being made to vulnerable people in their care are being delivered on. Three, we’ve actually got to do a lot more to challenge the scourge of dementia,” he said.

In April, the AMA launched its Position Statement on Resourcing Aged Care 2018 to outline the workforce and funding measures that the AMA believes are required to achieve a high quality, efficient aged care system that enables equitable access to health care for older people.

AMA President Dr Tony Bartone said Australia’s ageing population will require an increasing amount of medical support due to significant growth in the prevalence of chronic and complex medical disorders and associated increase in life expectancy.

The AMA has called for more Government funding and support to allow ongoing access to medical and health care at home, so people can remain in their home for as long as is appropriate. 

The AMA also believes there needs to be improved access for older people in residential aged care facilities (RACFs) to doctors through enhanced Medical Benefits Schedule (MBS) funding, and research into improved models to facilitate medical care in RACFs. Currently, inadequate MBS funding is a barrier for GPs to attend residents of aged care facilities, as they do not compensate for the significant non-face-to-face time (travel, finding residents and staff, etc) that comes with caring for RACF residents.

The AMA also believes that more nurses are needed in full time employment in aged care, and a minimum nurse to resident ratio should be included in the Aged Care Quality Standards.

Dr Bartone said AMA members have reported cases where nurses are being replaced by junior personal care attendants, and some residential aged care facilities do not have any nurses on staff after hours.

“It is unacceptable that some residents, who have high care needs, cannot access nursing care after hours without being transferred to a hospital Emergency Department,” he said.

The House of Representatives is currently conducting an Inquiry into the Quality of Care in Residential Aged Care Facilities in Australia.  At the time of publication, more than 100 submissions had been received.

The AMA gave evidence at the inquiry in May and the submission can be read here: www.aph.gov.au/DocumentStore.ashx?id=00ae9808-57c3-476f-8533-385e701fa619&subId=563295

The AMA Position Statement on Aged Care Resourcing can be found here: www.ama.com.au/position-statement/aged-care-resourcing-2018

MEREDITH HORNE

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