As part of the New Zealand Aged Care Association Conference in Wellington last month, Kerri Lanchester, General Manager Member Relations of peak aged care industry body Leading Age Services Australia (LASA) shared insights into where the industry is at. 

“The era of ageing is upon us and current planning is not going to deliver,” she saysAround 500 Australians turn 80 every week. It’s a sign of a successful society, but it’s also a mammoth challenge for an industry that is facing a range of challenges.” 

A quick snapshot 

There are 1.3 million consumers of aged care in Australia, funded to the tune of $18.5 billion by government – amounting to less than 1% of GDP. 

The great majority receive home-based care and support and relatively few live in an institutional or residential setting for their care. Similar to New Zealand, the average age on admission to permanent residential aged care is over 80. 

However, demand for home care is not being met, with around 90,000 fully allocated home care packages and a national queue of 120,000. Providers are also struggling financially.  

Since the Royal Commission commenced earlier this year, the sector and system has been subject to intensive scrutiny, with hundreds of case studies, submissions, forums and hearings.  

An interim report was released last month, and a final report is due by November 2020. 

The Royal Commission has put a spotlight on areas where the sector can definitely improve across a range of areas from training and development, remunerationdiversity issues and dementia care to the need for innovation and new thinking. 

However, government has shown a lack of leadership and responsibility and the general view is that it has outsourced the issue of aged care to the Royal Commission. 

So, what about industry leadership? Kerri says that in July this year LASA and Grant Thornton commenced a series of CEO workshops to explore a proactive vision of aged care in Australia. The results were submitted to the Royal Commission in September. 

It is the first time a cross-section of the sector has come together on this scale to discuss many of the wicked problems being faced by the sector now and into the future. 

“It was clear from all workshop attendees that service providers will not be passive participants in the future direction of the industry. 

Key report insights

Kerri shared six key insights from the work in the ‘Perspectives on the Future of Ageing and Age Services in Australia’ report. 

  • Consumers of care services and their families have the right to choice and control over the services they need and want and who delivers them. They have the right to high quality and safe services from every provider and worker. 
  • Workers need to be respected for the work they do in caring for the elderly. They are highly skilled and will adapt to a more consumer-centric model that provides pathways for them to learn and grow within the industry. 
  • Providers have a significant role and commitment to ensure the sector delivers the best care possible to the people they support and will not be passive in advocating for a system that delivers it. 
  • Government needs to recognise its role and make an undertaking for systemic reform rather than tinkering around the edges. This will come with increased risk and will require courage, willingness and commitment to change. 
  • The Australian community needs to better understand the life changes that come with ageing and how services support people through those changes. And needs to better understand and accept death and dying as one of those transitions. 
  • For the sector to be effective in the future, sustainability of all aspects of the sector will need to be given greater consideration, including a much closer look at the relationship between the provision of accommodation (facilities) and care (services). This may in fact be an important first step in stabilising the sector in the near term. 

Based on these, the sector is seeking a strong commitment by government to explore reform to structural systems to improve the sector, including: 

  • the appointment of a Minister whose sole responsibility is ageing and age services reform and who resides in the Cabinet  
  • radical redesign of the system based on the consumer experience and not limited by structural issues, such as departmental boundaries, government jurisdictions, and sources of funds 
  • consultation with service providers in ageing, hospitals, primary care, primary health networks, education, taxation, superannuation and health insurance to establish a wholeofsystem perspective on reform 
  • immediate consideration of the viability of the sector and what is required to ameliorate current provider performance concerns, including the relationship between accommodation (facilities) and care (services), and how greater choice can be achieved 
  • immediate consideration of processes required to improve the relationship between government and providers through engagement, trust and respect, rather than being punitive and transactional. 

Whilst the structural reform and scale of issues affecting Australia are different from New Zealand, the insights and recommendations have powerful resonance, given the shared challenge of a rapidly ageing population and an outdated system. 

NZACA Chief Executive Simon Wallace says the appointment of a Minister responsible for ageing and age services is something the industry here advocates for. 

“While we don’t need a Royal Commission in New Zealand, we do need to see ageing and aged care elevated to ministerial status here, ensuring aged care services are established as a critical partner to government and society and aging in 21st century New Zealand is positive and supported.” 

 

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