Change coming to aged care in response to Royal Commission

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The federal government has announced its 'initial response' to the findings of the Aged Care Royal Commission but Labor accused the prime minister of treating it like a political problem.

The Royal Commission's final report made 148 recommendations.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison said the report created a "roadmap" to improve the aged care system.

“I warned when I called the Royal Commission there will be stories that will be hard to hear. And that has been the case. But at the same time, we have also heard heart-warming cases of dedication and with the challenges of COVID-19 in the past year, we need to acknowledge the hard work performed by our aged care workforce," he said.

“As I noted at the time, Australians must be able to trust that their loved ones will be cared for appropriately and the community should have confidence in the system. This remains our clear goal.

“Today, the Australian Government is continuing to drive reforms with additional funding of $452.2 million to address immediate priorities in the sector.”

The initial funding will go towards strengthening aged care provider governance and improved oversight of home care. It will also provide additional financial assistance for residential care providers and to building the related workforce.

“The Royal Commission’s report is a significant document, the culmination of a two year inquiry, and demands a carefully considered response,” said health minister Greg Hunt.

“The Government announced a $537 million package in November 2019 in response to the Interim Report, with a focus on more home care packages, reducing the number of young people living in residential aged care, and improving medication management."

“Today, we announce a further $452.2 million package as an initial step in responding to this Final Report," said Minister Hunt.

However, Labor leader Anthony Albanese slammed the response. "So long as Scott Morrison treats aged care like a political problem, we'll never be able to fix aged care. The system is broken. The Government should have one objective: to fix it. It's time for the PM to be straight with the Australian people and just get it done."

A range of stakeholders also called for dramatic reform of the current aged care arrangements.

“When it comes to the crisis consuming our aged care system, the Royal Commissioners are unanimous in identifying the issues of neglect, abuse, indifference and poor leadership,” said Council on the Ageing Australia chief executive Ian Yates AM.

The organisation said reforms should focus on transparency, enhanced consumer rights, home care without waiting, a stronger regulator and a star rating system for staff.

Catholic Health Australia said the Royal Commission's final report is a once-in-a-generation opportunity.

"The federal Budget in May is a key starting point for the sector but we also need to recognise that it cannot be funded entirely by the Commonwealth alone," said CEO Pat Garcia.

"The appalling neglect of too many older Australians, with some unable to access support at all and others receiving substandard care, requires reforms that must not be put into the too-hard basket," said Alison Verhoeven, chief executive of the Australian Healthcare and Hospitals Association (AHHA).

"Our broken aged care system is not new, but it was only when the ABC Four Corners investigation, Who Cares?, was screened in 2018 that the Australian Government acted by establishing the Royal Commission into Aged Care.

"Interim reports and detailed research published during the course of the Commission’s inquiry have seen some limited responses from the government including some additional investment in home care packages - but overall, the response has been slow and superficial.

"The findings of the Royal Commission are so serious that reforms are urgently needed to be stepped up. 

"The Government must not allow the Commissioners’ divergent views relating to governance and funding to get in the road of doing what’s right for older Australians."

The two commissioners, Lynelle Briggs and Tony Pagone, disagreed on the changes required to govern, regulate and fund aged care.

Mr Pagone said he believes aged care should be governed by a body completely independent of government. Ms Briggs said the existing government bodies such as the Aged Care Quality and Safety Commission should be retained but improved.