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Where to for aged care reform in 2022?

On 1 March 2021 the report of the findings and recommendations of the Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety was tabled in Parliament. It proposed that a new Aged Care Act should come into effect by no later than July 2023 to give effect to the recommendations.

In total, 148 recommendations were made. Some of these however were not unanimous but were made by one or other of the two Commissioners.

The report was broadly accepted by the government and some initial interim steps have been implemented.  The opposition also supports the need to implement most of the recommendations of the Commissioners.

The most noteworthy initial response was the allocation of significant additional funds to reduce waiting lists for Home Care Packages. Other steps already implemented include a daily food supplement to providers to improve the quality of meals in residential care.

Before the Royal Commission had completed its sittings the government had introduced a trial in 170 aged care facilities of which 20 were in Western Australia to determine whether it could introduce a new funding model for residents , the Australian National Aged Care Classification      (AN-ACC) to replace the current funding model the Aged Care Funding Instrument (ACFI).

Although the trial was not completed the report submitted by the government was that this more person- centred model was appropriate to be introduced. It is scheduled to become operative on 1 October 2022.

One of the key recommendations of the Royal Commission was the establishment of an Aged Care Advisory Council. It was recommended that the Minister should appoint to the Council, “such people of eminence, expertise and knowledge of aged care services as the Minister sees fit, drawn from all relevant aspects of the aged care system [my emphasis], including people receiving aged care, representatives of the aged care workforce, approved providers, health and allied health professionals, specialists in training and education, and independent experts.”

Recently the Minister announced the make-up of the Advisory Council. Unfortunately, no representatives of people receiving aged care nor any representative of the aged care workforce were appointed.

In addition, the Commissioners recommended the appointment of a Council of Elders to work in conjunction with the Advisory Council. Although Ian Yates, the CEO of the Council of the Ageing has been appointed to chair the Council of Elders no other members have yet been appointed. Mr Yates has also been appointed as a member of the Advisory Council.

Greg Hunt, the Minister for Health and Aged Care has now announced that he will be retiring from politics at the next federal election which is likely to be held in May 2022. Senator Colbeck, the Minister for Seniors and Aged Care Services has not announced that he is retiring so may well continue in his role. However, Minister Hunt was given the additional cabinet responsibility of Aged Care last year after frequent public criticism that Senator Colbeck was less than adept at dealing with his portfolio.

If the current opinion polls are correct, there is a real possibility that there may be a change of government which would lead, no doubt, to further re-evaluation of the recommended reforms.

As at today, the prospect of significant and meaningful reform of the aged care system in 2022 seems a long way off.

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