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Aged care handed back to health

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Responsibility for aged care has been returned to the Health portfolio and Minister for Rural Health Senator Fiona Nash has been given oversight of indigenous health among changes made to the allocation of roles by Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull.

In a move welcomed by the AMA, the Federal Government announced on 30 September that Health Minister Sussan Ley would retain her hold on the Sport portfolio and would take on the additional role as Minister for Aged Care.

Mr Turnbull said that giving Ms Ley responsibility for aged care would ensure that ageing was “front and centre with the health portfolio as our population continues to live longer and healthier lives”.

As part of the change, aged care functions will be transferred from Department of Social Services to the Health Department.

AMA President Professor Brian Owler said aged care had languished in recent times because taking it out of Health had reduced the political focus.

“It is vital that the health needs of older Australians are considered as a key component of the broader health policy debate, and it is fitting that aged care is back with the Health Minister,” Professor Owler said. “Caring for older Australians, whether they live in residential aged care or independently in their own homes, is an integral part of medical practice.”

One of the major issues to be tackled in the area is the dislocation of care for people in nursing homes, as well as adequate support for GP-led primary health teams in providing co-ordinated care to enable the elderly to live at home.

“Most older Australians have longstanding relationships with their GP, who is best placed to determine which services will work best for their patient,” Professor Owler said. “Early medical assessment is critical to ensuring that older Australians receive the appropriate support to maintain their level of independence before their social and health situation deteriorates.

He said including the clinical opinion of a patient’s usual treating doctor in the assessment of their care needs and formulating a care package should be normal practice, not, as is currently the case, an optional extra.

“We also need to see improved processes to allow doctors to manage the provision of straightforward care, such as wound care, for older people still living in their own home,” the AMA President said. “The aged care sector must be able to provide the level and quality of medical, nursing, and allied health services required to meet the needs of our ageing population.”

Professor Owler said the AMA would seek to discuss these issues and other aged care policy priorities “at the earliest opportunity.”

In addition to rural and indigenous health responsibilities, Senator Nash has retained her oversight of drug and alcohol policy and organ donation.

Assistant Health Minister Ken Wyatt will provide support for Ms Ley in aged care.

Adrian Rollins