The Queen’s Speech

Last month saw an interesting divergence of Australia and the United Kingdom (the countries in which AutumnCare operates) to the societal-level approach to caring for our elders. 

Nearly two years after Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s “pledge to fix social care” was made, when setting out the UK Government’s priorities at the opening of Parliament earlier this month, the only mention was that “proposals on social care reform will be brought forward”.

No further details was added – not legislation, nor additional funding or even a time scale. 

 

This failure to act a full decade after the Dilnot report is bad enough, but coming off the back of a pandemic in which social care recipients, workers and providers have borne the brunt of losses and restrictions, feels like an insult as well as a dereliction of action on such an important national issue.

In an ironic coincidence, Treasurer Josh Frydenburg delivered the 2021-22 Federal Budget to the Australian Parliament on the same day as the Queen’s Speech in Westminster, and the outcomes for aged care down under couldn’t be more different. 

 

Royal Commission

Coming just weeks after the final report of the Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety, the 2021-22 budget was a crucial test of how seriously the Morrison Government takes both the commissioner’s findings specifically, and the problem of aged care itself in general.

The outcomes of the Royal Commission were very clear, with overall takeaways such as:

  • A clear intention to have more regulation of Home Care
  • A review of the Quality Standards
  • Funding should be made available to providers to assist with current issues
  • Quality care can only be delivered by a competent and valued workforce
  • There is a new appointment within the Quality Commission tasked with leading the transformative changes
  • There is clear intention to commence immediate work on writing a new Aged Care Act 

 

Key Recommendations

Some of the Key Recommendations of the report are sector-level seismic shifts that will affect all aged care providers, workers and recipients.

Key Recommendations affecting the wider industry include:

  • Recommendation 1: A new Act
  • Recommendation 5: Australian Aged Care Commission
  • Recommendation 10: Aged Care Safety and Quality Authority

 

Other Key Recommendations are more tightly focussed on technological/digital service providers to the industry.

Key Recommendations affecting digital service providers include:

  • Recommendation 68: Universal adoption by the aged care sector of digital technology and My Health Record
  • Recommendation 108: Data governance and a National Aged Care Data Asset

 

The Budget

In a sense then, the Budget delivered, with headlines proclaiming historic reform and funding increases running to billions of dollars over the coming years.

In particular, Royal Commission-inspired policies such as the creation of the Aged Care Inspector General, a new independent pricing mechanism, and of course, revised quality standards seem to be welcome.

The proof of the pudding, as ever, is in the eating. The harsh truth is that genuine, far-reaching reform is required – not just in Australia, but across the developed world.

The population is ageing, and faster than ever before:

  • More than 4.1 million Australians, or almost 16% of the population, are currently aged over 65. By 2057, that will rise to 8.8 million, or 22% of the population, and by the end of the century it will be 12.8 million people; about one quarter of all Australians
  • Close to 100,000 people are waiting for home support at their approved level – with those in need of the highest-level packages typically waiting at least 12 months

 

Home Care VS Residential Care

This last fact is particularly striking, especially when compared to the new $6.5bn for an additional 80,000 home care packages over the next 2 years in this much-heralded budget.

Australian aged care is skewed towards residential aged care, with 6.4% of over 65s in Australia living in these communal homes, compared with an OECD average of 3.6%.

If the government is truly serious about re-focusing on this supposedly-cheaper form of care, then it has to at least fund the existing shortfall as well as plan for growth away from the traditional residential model.

Over 1 million Australians access aged care services at home, 80% of whom are in the low care Commonwealth Home Support Programme versus the Home Care Package program which delivers for greater needs.

And yet, of the $21 billion spent by the government on aged care last year, 63% of it went toward the 244,000 residential aged care home places.

 

It’s clear why government bean-counters want to pivot care away from expensive aged care facilities back into people’s own homes.