The waiting list for a home care package has fallen for the first time, according to new government data, but experts say the wait is still too long, with 43 Australians dying every day without ever receiving the home care they were promised.
The Home Care Packages Program Data Report from the federal Department of Health said that in the quarter to June 30, the number of people waiting for a home care package that met their needs dropped 7 per cent to 119,524 on the previous quarter. A total of 125,117 Australians now have access to a home care package, an increase of more than 25,000 people over the 12 months to June 30. But the number of people having been approved to receive government-subsidised home care services but not yet receiving them, and the time those people must wait for their approved services to be delivered, remains a sore point.
The government’s own aged care platform, My Aged Care, acknowledges that people requiring anything but the most basic level of home care face a wait of more than 12 months for their care to commence. And COTA, the peak group representing older Australians, has claimed that that official number understates the wait many people experience. “There are still far too many older Australians waiting more than 18 months for care, while around 43 per day die while waiting,” COTA said in a statement.
Meanwhile, Sean Rooney, the CEO of Leading Age Services Australia, a trade association for aged care providers, said that he was aware of cases where older Australians were waiting more than two years for home care services. The process of applying for, being approved to receive, and receiving subsidised home care is complex and can involve multiple parties, including hospitals and GPs, My Aged Care assessment bodies and home care services providers. Once an applicant’s needs are assessed, they are assigned a care package ranging from level one – the lowest level of care – to level four – for the highest care needs – with appropriate funding to pay for that care attached to the package. A level one package funds $8,750 worth of home care a year, while a level four package provides $50,950 in funding for care.
Most people waiting for home care package services are offered interim assistance via the Commonwealth Home Support Program (CHSP), which is designed to provide lower-level or shorter-term care, while others are offered a home care package at a lower level than their assessment found they needed.
But COTA CEO Ian Yates said the CHSP wasn’t a substitute for a home care package because it couldn’t meet the complex care needs of some users, such as those requiring level three or four care. “We are also receiving a burgeoning number of reports that people who have been approved for CHSP support aren’t able to find the services because services are full,” he added. COTA wants the government to cut wait times to three months maximum – an improvement the Health Department told a hearing of the Royal Commission into Aged Care would cost an extra $2 billion and $2.5 billion a year.
Fiona Buffinton, the first assistant secretary in the home and aged care division of the department, told the commission hearing in March that the system was dealing with a sudden, large jump in numbers of people attempting to access subsidised home care. “The fact [is] that from in mid-2016, we had 64,000 people in home care and by June 2018, we had 92,000 people in home care,” she said.
“I absolutely acknowledge that the unprecedented demand has led to unprecedented growth of the wait list and, therefore, wait times.” Buffinton said that while the government had rapidly increased funding to the tune of about $1 billion a year to meet increased demand, bringing waiting times to a “reasonable level” would take more even more money. “For everybody to get a package within three months, it’s probably in the order of an additional two to two and a half billion dollars per annum,” she added.
Even allowing all of those waiting for care to have access to a level two package – which may not be sufficient to meet their needs – would cost an extra $800 million a year, Buffinton said. In the May budget, the Morrison government committed what it said was record funding of $21.6 billion to improving the country’s aged care system, including $282 million to be spent over five years from 2018 on an extra 10,000 home care packages.
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