The federal government will spend almost half a billion dollars on immediate measures to overhaul the aged care sector following the release of a damning royal commission report.
- The final report from the royal commission into aged care has been released
- The government has pre-empted the report, pledging almost half a billion dollars to the sector
- The commission has recommended wide-ranging reform, including a shift to a funding system based on individuals’ needs
The final report, released by commissioners Tony Pagone and Lynelle Briggs, makes 148 recommendations following a two-year investigation into the sector.
The recommendations include approving home care packages within one month from the date of a person’s assessment and clearing the waitlist by the end of the year.
It also recommends putting the power to prescribe anti-psychotic drug in the hands of a psychiatrist or a geriatrician, to restrict their use in residential aged care.
“Life is to be lived. No matter how old we are, how frail or incapacitated we might be, how rich or poor, we all have the fundamental right to wellbeing, enjoyment and fulfilment as we age,” Commissioner Briggs said in the final report.
“In order for this aspiration to become reality, our aged care system must be founded on the principles of unfailing compassion — care, dignity and respect.”
The commissioners have called for all staff in aged care to have a minimum level of training in line with the childcare sector.
The Aged Care Act must be replaced, according to the report, a recommendation the government has accepted.
PM eager for ‘generational change’
Prime Minister Scott Morrison described the royal commission process as “harrowing” but praised the work of the commissioners.
“What they’ve said is the basic paradigm needs to change and I agree,” he said.
“We need to make generational change so that individualised needs and needs-based care is developed, that respects the dignity of the individual Australian.”
Mr Morrison announced the royal commission into the aged care sector in 2018, following what he called a “disturbing” trend of non-compliance and failures in the industry.
It was one of his first major decisions since becoming Prime Minister.
A former chair of the commission, Richard Tracey QC, died in 2019, weeks after being diagnosed with a terminal cancer.
The final report recommends a registered nurse always be on duty in an aged care home, that no person under 45 years be in an aged care home by January next year, and that a register of aged care workers be created.
Commissioners at odds over recommendations
The final report includes different recommendations from commissioners Pagone and Briggs, which the Prime Minister said was the result of “the complexity of this problem”. They disagreed on almost a third of the recommendations.
Commissioner Pagone wants a new independent body to replace the existing federal government regulator.
“The independence of the commission will mean that it can give undivided attention and focus to its task of being an effective system governor of aged care,” he wrote.
“The same cannot be said of a department of state subject to ministerial direction.”
But Commissioner Briggs wants the Department of Health to become the the Department of Health and Aged Care.
“In addition to the cost and inevitable delays in setting up a new body, I am concerned that the creation of a new, arms-length commission to oversee the delivery of aged care services would weaken the direct accountability of ministers for the quality of aged care,” she said.
Commissioner Briggs also said she feared a new body would lead to “dysfunctional governance”.
Labor demands government action
The federal opposition is urging the government not to avoid sweeping changes just because a royal commission has not been able to settle on the best way to change the system.
“I would be so angry if the government used that as some sort of excuse not to engage in proper reform,” Shadow Aged Care Services Minister Clare O’Neil said.
“That would be just continuing this record of eight years of neglect and funding cuts that have got us to the point where we are today.”
Ms O’Neil said the royal commission marked the 22nd report that the government had received into aged care in almost eight years and she described the sector as a “national crisis”.
But Mr Morrison warned changes would take “considerable time” and flagged the report noted a five-year time frame.
“The royal commission has now, I think, set out a very important roadmap which I think will establish generational change in the country when it comes to aged care,” he said.
“It’s the inquiry we needed to have.”
Council on the Ageing Australia chief executive Ian Yates said it was now the government’s responsibility to map out the structural reforms.
“The evidence is overwhelming,” he said.
“We need a major transformation of the system and older Australians shouldn’t wait a day longer than needed to be guaranteed choice, dignity and quality in aged care.”
He added the government’s priority must be ensuring everyone could access care in their own homes by the end of 2022.
The government announced a package on Monday, including $190 million for temporary financial support and $92 million to develop the aged care workforce.