THE federal government must act now to stop 16,000 older Australians dying each year while they wait for the help they need to remain in their homes, aged care advocates say.
Thursday’s interim report from the aged care royal commission will outline the commissioners’ overall impressions of what one labelled a “cruel and unkind” system, but is not expected to include recommendations for reform.
Advocates, doctors, nurses and industry groups argue urgent action to fix the aged care system, including home care, cannot wait.
“No one should die waiting for home care,” National Seniors Australia chief advocate Ian Henschke told AAP.
The royal commission was told more than 16,000 people died in 2017/18 waiting for a home care package they never received.
Mr Henschke said almost 14,000 people who wanted to stay at home ended up in residential aged care facilities.
“At the very least, we have to make sure that every single person who is in urgent need of home care should get the care they need and not be on a wait list where they die or where they are forced into residential care when they want to stay at home.”
Health department data suggests people wait a year or longer for all but the lowest level of home care package.
A senior departmental official told the commission the government would need to spend an additional $2-2.5 billion a year to get people their assessed level of care within three months.
The latest data showed the number waiting for a home care package at their approved level fell to 119,524 in the June 2019 quarter, while 125,000 Australians had access to one.
Advocacy group COTA Australia chief executive Ian Yates said the government could make a big step to fix home care without pre-empting the final report recommendations.
“It needs to ensure that there’s much greater supply of home care – we can’t wait for that – and it should proceed with simplifying the system, which it has announced it would do twice,” he said.
Aged and Community Services CEO Patricia Sparrow said the peak body for non-profit aged care providers had also been advocating for more home care packages.
The central issue of funding of the aged care sector has yet to be examined in detail by the royal commission.
But Mr Yates expects the interim report will acknowledge the sector needs more resources, saying the government could decide to put more funding into the system when it wanted.
“I will be very surprised if the royal commission’s interim report doesn’t in general say it is very clear that the sector needs more resources, whether that comes entirely from government or from a mix of government and greater use of contributions on a more equitable basis.”
Ms Sparrow said more funding was needed now.
“There are real viability issues in the sector with nearly 75 per cent of rural and remote facilities now operating at a loss,” she said, adding there were problems in metropolitan areas as well.