The aged care inquiry has made a big impact on Australia and New Zealand will be keeping a close eye on its findings.

Since its establishment the inquiry has conducted hearings, released reports and received countless submissions about the state of aged care.

Some of the issues that have come to light, so far, are the lack of good oral healthcare for older Australians, the importance of implementing advance care planning, poor access to primary healthcare in rural areas and the use of physical restraints.

New Zealand Aged Care Association chairman Simon O’Dowd said while this country’s aged care sector does not face the scale of challenges confronting Australia, it should take notice of the issues.

“Quality and safety are certainly factors, and New Zealand has a robust regime.

“However, we can’t afford to rest on our laurels and are watching the Australian Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety with interest as there will be important things we can learn.”

This does not mean that New Zealand would benefit from having its own inquiry, he said.

“The sector here is heavily regulated and numerous government agencies have legal clout to enforce high standards of care, as they should, given we are looking after some of our most vulnerable Kiwis.”

Providers meet rigorous audit and reporting standards set by the Ministry of Health and District Health Boards who both have the power to investigate rest homes to a very high level, he said.

“We do see occasional cases of inadequate care highlighted in the media – and let’s be clear we do not condone any one instance of poor care.

“However, it is important to put these cases in perspective. Out of nearly 39,000 residents in 670 certified rest homes across New Zealand, very few are taken to full investigation.

“For example, of the 100 complaints received in the 12 months to February this year, just 20 were taken to full investigation.”

One important aged care issue in New Zealand that needs to be address is the nurse shortage that has been exacerbated by the pay settlement for (DHB) nurses leaving aged care nurses paid on average $5 an hour less, he said.

“The majority of our providers are not funded to match those rates, apart from some of the larger operators who have other funding streams through retirement village operations.”

How the industry meets future demand, with estimations of 58,000 people in aged care facilities by 2030, is another challenge that needs to be met. Some of these people will be entering at an older age with higher and more complex care needs.

“Change is needed to address the limitations of New Zealand’s current aged care delivery model to better reflect its central role in caring for our elderly loved ones.

“The Funding Model Review which has been carried out over the last 18 months will deliver some recommendations on that when it is released in August.”

In New Zealand, there have also been calls to establish an Aged Care Commissioner but having a Minister of Aged Care, like in Australia, would be better, O’Dowd said.

“We believe such a portfolio could bring together the disparate parts of government with a stake in the industry e.g. health, social development and immigration, and work actively to address the challenges and find solutions.”

In Australia the inquiry has had backing from the aged care industry and Leading Age Services Australia chief executive officer Sean Rooney said the sector is fully supportive of the commission.

“The safety of older Australians is not negotiable and any instance of failure of care is unacceptable.

“All Australians want a safe, high quality and high performing aged care system. Older Australians need it and older Australians deserve nothing less.

“There have been unacceptable failures of care in the industry causing great distress to older people and their loved ones and we must do better.”

The sector recognises that it must be accountable and aims to continuously improving its provision of services, he said.

“We are committed to realising a better aged care system that delivers care, support and services with compassion, high quality and safety – at all times.

“We must grasp this once-in-a-generation opportunity to make the aged care system better for all older Australians, now and into the future.

“We have heard stories that will be distressing and challenging for families, for providers and for staff and we need to take this opportunity to understand not only the failures but the causes behind it.”

It is important, however, while the commission is underway, that the industry does not lose sight of improving the system right now by addressing some of the issues including funding, quality and access to services, Rooney said.

“Aged care is an issue of national importance. It is too important not to get right.”

The commission is focusing on the quality of care provided in residential and home aged care as well as young Australians with disabilities living in residential aged care settings.

An interim report will be completed by the commissioners before October 31, 2019, and a final report is due by April 30, 2020.

 

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