In March 2021, the Royal Commission into aged care told us what so many Australians already knew. Our aged system is broken. It desperately needs to be fixed.
The findings of the Royal Commission were a wake-up call to the nation and they called for fundamental and systemic reform. The aged care system has been starved of funds for too long, and a result, too many older Australians are denied high-quality and safe care. This is especially true for marginalised groups of older people, including rural and regional Australians and Indigenous Australians.
The Government’s response to the Royal Commission was a start, but it is not enough. The omicron wave of COVID-19 has thrown aged care into crisis yet again. And the commitments the Government has made after the Royal Commission don’t fix the fundamental problems in the aged care system. We need serious investment to fix aged care.
Building new aged care facilities
Too many residential aged care facilities, especially those in our small regional towns, are outdated and not fit-for-purpose. Those older Australians who are living in residential care often have complex health needs, including dementia, which require specialised facilities and daily medical care. In too many towns, the facilities we have were built decades ago and no longer meet the contemporary needs.
Bright is one such community. Bright is the largest town in Victoria that has no high-needs residential aged care facilities. The much-loved Hawthorn Village plays an important role for the community, but if people require high-needs care, then they have to leave town and travel to Mt Beauty or Wangaratta to access appropriate care. For older people, many of whom have husbands or wives who want to come and visit regularly, they should not be forced to leave their hometown just to access the care they need.
The reason these facilities are outdated is because for decades, successive Governments have failed to properly invest in aged care. The Royal Commission called for that to change. It called for the Government to invest $1 billion into building and upgrading residential aged care facilities, every year, from 2023.
Instead, the Government has committed just under $80 million a year. That is less than 10% of what the Royal Commission recommended.
With proper funding, we would have the opportunity to upgrade our rundown facilities here in regional Australia and give older Australians the quality of care they deserve. Instead, the Government has again short-changed older Australians in regional Australia. I am committed to securing the funds we need to upgrade aged care facilities for towns like Bright right across Indi and across regional Australia.
More aged care nurses
When the bell rings in an aged care facility in the middle of the night, you need to have a nurse on call. Having worked as a nurse and a midwife across the North East for decades, I know how important it is to respond to those calls quickly. And so often, the medical calls do come at night time. With Australians living longer and having more complex healthcare needs into old age, it is becoming increasingly important to deliver registered nursing care in aged care centres.
However, right now, many residential aged care centres don’t have registered nurses on call all the time. Our aged care health workforce is overworked and underpaid, and aged care centres often don’t roster registered nurses on to work the night shift. This leaves some of our most vulnerable older Australians without rapid access to medical care if they need it in the middle of the night. The statistics speak for themselves: One in three people in residential care have experienced sub-standard care. Nearly one in five have experienced assault. One in two have concerns about understaffing and calls going unanswered.
As a nurse, I think it is unacceptable to leave older Australians in residential care without the medical care they need.
The Royal Commission called on the Government to implement new rules to require registered nurses on duty, round the clock. It called for legislation that would mandate, by 2024, that a registered nurse be onsite at residential aged care facilities 24 hours a day. Even more, it said that individuals living in residential care should be entitled to a minimum amount of time with a registered nurse each day.
The Government declined to accept that recommendation. Now, I understand this is ambitious. We will need to train more nurses and aged care workers. We will need to invest properly to pay them a decent wage and to attract them to regional areas. But I think we should be ambitious for older Australians. We need to get registered nurses in residential care, round the clock, to give older people the care they deserve.
Delivering home care faster
Many Australians prefer to age at home, instead of moving into residential care. The Home Care program is a key part of making that happen. But right now, too many Australians are waiting for months and even years to receive the Home Care packages they are assessed as needing. In 2019, the wait time for the most complex packages was up to 34 months – almost three years. That means that some older Australians were waiting nearly three years just to get the care they were entitled to.
I have heard from constituents who are forced to wait one year, even sometimes two years, to receive a home care package. It’s cruel and appalling to deny vulnerable older Australians the care they need.
The Royal Commission called for this to be fixed by the end of 2021. It called on the Government to clear the Home Care wait list by delivering packages immediately to everyone entitled to one. It also called on the Government to commit to delivering Home Care packages in the future within one month of an individual being assessed. If the Government delivered on that, it would be transformational for older Australians – giving them the care they need to stay at home, where they want to be.
But the Government did not deliver on this. Instead, we are now into 2022, past the deadline, and the Home Care wait list is still tens of thousands long. There are still 50,000 people waiting for a Home Care package. In North East Victoria the number of people on the wait list is actually increasing, not decreasing. This is not acceptable. The number of packages the Government is providing is clearly insufficient. They need to do more.
I am calling for the Government to commit to meeting the standard set by the Royal Commission. Immediately deliver home care packages for all who need them. And cap wait times for home care packages at one month. I am committed to holding the Government to account for delivering for older Australians.