Are Aged Care Reforms Enough?

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The recent announcement by Federal Minister for Aged Care Ken Wyatt of “significant reforms” designed to improve the quality of and confidence in the nations Aged Care sector have been met with a, mostly, positive response from industry bodies over the past week.

The reforms include the introduction of a new national independent Aged Care Quality and Safety Commission – bringing together the Australian Aged Care Quality Agency, The Aged Care Complaints Commission and the aged care regulatory functions of the Department of Health.

Ian Yates, Chief Executive Officer for Council on the Ageing (Australia’s leading advocacy body for older Australians and aged care consumers) welcomed the announcement saying it is a significant step towards better monitoring and enforcement of quality in Australia’s care system.

However, while this is a positive and much needed step forward in an industry that urgently needs to raise the quality benchmarks that homes must meet when it comes to caring for Australia’s must vulnerable, are these type of regulatory reforms enough?

Will these reforms, that ultimately provide patients and their families a single point of contact to deal with concerns or complaints around sub-standard care, be enough to enforce the change within the centres that is so desperately needed.

The Australian Nursing and Midwifery Federation (ANMF) has been an active voice calling for a law relating to minimum staffing ratios (similar to the ones that exist within hospitals and childcare centres) with ANMF Federal Secretary Annie Butler recently saying that increased staffing levels is “precisely what will solve the problem for the elderly, vulnerable Australians in nursing homes”.

She may be right, and the importance of appropriately trained, paid and rested staff in nursing homes will be vital to building confidence in the aged care industry. However, increasing staff ratios to the levels required to ‘fix’ the crisis in aged care will also be an expensive and cost-prohibitive solution, one that will lead to more expensive care for patients and most likely lead nursing homes to look for other areas to cut costs and therefore impact patients.

What needs to be researched in more detail is how Australia can invest in technology which can increase the quality of care every patient receives, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

Technology that does not replace the important role of trained nurses, nursing home staff and carers but enables them to provide a level of care that is unprecedented in the aged care industry.

We need a new way of looking at health care. One that puts all stakeholders; consumer, worker and facility owner at the very core of its purpose. We need to develop a system that will improve health outcomes for older Australians through faster response times and a more personalised health care.

A program which can provide nurses, carers and facility managers greater insight into the real time health and wellbeing of each and every patient within their care, alerting them to movements or potential areas for concern before they arrive in the room, or in some instances without the patient even being aware.

Successive governments have failed to grasp the complexity of what is required to adequately provide high quality aged care, and many of the departments, associations and industry bodies, while passionate about aged care have a relatively single focus.

The reports, reviews and inquiries are so focused on looking back that they can’t look forward and see that investing in research and technology could provide answers to most of the questions and concerns being raised by consumers, workers and facility owners/mangers.

It’s time for Australia to stand up and find a solution. With adequate funding and investment in research, technology will be a game-changer for the aged care sector. It can be a crowning achievement for Australia and ensure that our elderly are cared for better than anywhere else in the world.

Alison van den Dungen