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15 Jun 2017

By Professor Robyn Langham, Chair, Medical Practice Committee

The AMA has long advocated for a stronger, more responsive and better funded aged care system. In light of the numerous reviews continuing in the sector, and the more recent and very worrying Oakden reports, aged care issues continue to gain greater prominence in the media spotlight.

The Medical Practice Committee (MPC), in conjunction with the Council of General Practice (CGP), have taken the lead in responding to these reviews. First, we developed a submission to the Department of Health on the Aged Care Legislated Review [https://ama.com.au/submission/ama-submission-department-aged-care-legisl.... The submission argues that:

  • The aged care system must evolve to accommodate Australia’s increasing ageing population, address the lack of aged care staff, and fix the underutilisation of medical practitioners in these settings;
  • Aged care staff and medical practitioners need access to highly skilled nurses, properly equipped clinical treatment rooms, and updated IT clinical software;
  • There is immediate need for increased communication systems between the residential aged care facility staff, the residents’ GP, the My Aged Care Gateway and Aged Care Assessment Teams (ACATs); and
  • Governments must ensure the new consumer-driven system is flexible and efficient to meet the changing needs of the ageing population, and to ensure that rural areas are not left behind.

 In addition, the AMA took part in a My Aged Care Gateway evaluation run by the Federal Department of Health. This highlighted that the system in its current form is having a negative impact on aged care.  In particular, the AMA highlighted that:

  • The Gateway is unnecessarily complicated, requiring all patients to undergo either a Regional Assessment Service (RAS) or assessment by an ACAT in order to access support services. Significant delays have resulted, with the AMA receiving worrying feedback that many elderly people go without the urgent care they need;
  • The application process increases the administrative burden on doctors and practice staff, and creates confusion around the processes when a patient requires urgent care;
  • The current website has had several malfunctions, causing significant waiting times on the My Aged Care hotline;
  • Aged Care Gateway staff overlook information supplied on the application form about medical reasons why an older patient cannot answer the phone to organise services, resulting in further delays; and
  • The application form does not integrate with practice software.

 The strong message from the AMA is that for the My Aged Care system to work properly, it must be simple and efficient. Reports from members indicate this is not the case – and indeed the whole process is heading in the opposite direction.

It is clear there is much more advocacy needed, prompting MPC and CGP to also review the AMA’s aged care position statements, specifically the Access to Medical Care for Older Australians, as a first step in driving the debate further.

The timing is appropriate; the government has contributed $1.9 million to develop an industry-led taskforce to improve the aged care workforce. This taskforce provides an opportunity for the AMA to push governments to ensure our future workforce is appropriately equipped to deal with the challenges ahead. For example, the government has predicted that the proportion of Australians 65 years of age and over will increase to 18 per cent by 2026.

The budget has provided an increase of $3.1 million for ICT support to the My Aged Care Gateway, with the statedaim of improving system performance and efficiency. This is a small amount of funding, but a nevertheless welcome addition and we hope to see some improvements in the future. I have no doubt that far more funding will be needed to address all the issues highlighted in our evaluation.

To that end, and in light of our advocacy agenda, I am interested in your views on the My Aged Care Gateway, so please feel free to send them to the AMA at ama@ama.com.au


Published: 15 Jun 2017