Aged Care

Quality focus in record aged care spend but gaps remain, leaders say

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The federal government is putting a lot of money into improving aged care services for older Australians. Since last year’s budget, total investments in aged care have gone up by 30%, which is a huge increase.

“We have put nurses back into nursing homes, given residents more time with their carers, lifted wages in the sector and improved transparency and accountability,” Health Minister Mark Butler said in a media release.

One of the biggest investments is $11.3 billion to significantly raise wages for aged care workers. This is the largest one-off wage increase the sector has ever seen, with more pay rises planned for the future too. The hope is that higher pay will attract more people to these important but undervalued roles.

“We know that the previous increases are working. We’re hearing reports from across the sector that it’s becoming easier to attract and keep aged care workers, so this is another important step in that journey,” said ACCPA CEO Tom Symondson.

The budget also allocates $531.4 million for 24,100 new home care packages. This will help reduce wait times so more older Australians can access care to stay living independently at home for longer, which is what most people want.

“It’s critical that investment in home care packages continues, to ensure that demand is met and that older people can receive the care they need quickly rather than waiting months for even basic support,” Symondson said.

Around $1.4 billion is committed to upgrading outdated technology systems and digital infrastructure in aged care homes and services. This will enable major reforms planned under an overhaul of the Aged Care Act.

However, this Act has been delayed until July 2025 to allow more time to get the changes right. While some are disappointed by the delay, the government says proper consultation is needed for such a fundamental reform putting older people’s rights at the centre.

“We are disappointed to see the Budget Papers indicate that the new Aged Care Act will commence on 1 July 2025, rather than this year which we have strongly advocated for,” said OPAN CEO Craig Gear.

Funding of $111 million will strengthen the aged care regulator’s ability to ensure safe, quality services. And $88.4 million aims to attract and keep more aged care workers through improved staffing solutions.

The budget also focuses on better integrating aged care with the broader health system. $882.2 million will go towards moving some hospital services into aged care homes and the community to improve care for older patients.

“As part of the Strengthening Medicare package, older Australians will get the health care and support they need in a safe and comfortable environment when it isn’t necessary for them to stay in hospital,” notes the media release.

This includes upskilling the aged care workforce, delivering outreach services, providing more virtual care options, supporting older people’s transitions out of hospital, and expanding transition care programs.

From August 2024, GPs will receive incentives to regularly treat their patients living in aged care homes to improve continuity of care.

The budget also commits to keeping PBS medicine costs lower for longer for aged care residents and other older Australians. And $101.4 million is allocated for better dementia care and support services.

While welcomed, some aged care peak bodies say the investments still don’t go far enough, particularly in clearing the home care package queue and implementing long-awaited sector reforms.

“ACCPA advocated for 80,000 home care packages to clear the national queue, and with today’s announcement, that queue will continue to grow,” said Symondson.

“We need to see the Government’s response and we need all sides of politics to get behind these reforms. Only bi-partisan support can ensure that they stand the test of time,” he added.

Gear also urged the government to “get moving on its election commitments” for aged care reform.

But overall, this budget delivers an unprecedented injection of funds aimed at improving respect, care and quality of life for older Australians.

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Ritchelle is a Content Producer for Healthcare Channel, Australia’s premier resource of information for healthcare.

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