Providing leadership to care for older Australians
BY AMA PRESIDENT DR TONY BARTONE
There can be no greater responsibility for the Government than to invest in the medical and health care of older Australians as they enter a vulnerable stage of their lives.
The aged care industry in Australia is clearly in crisis. The numerous horror stories of poor standards of care, poor food, and health and hygiene issues are confronting, as is the stunning disbelief that it is happening in our own neighbourhoods.
This is a very real human tragedy. The victims are our grandparents, mothers and fathers, aunts and uncles, brothers and sisters. These are people who have contributed so much to families, communities, society, and indeed our way of life for many years. They deserve so much better.
This crisis was worthy of a Royal Commission. The Commission was announced and has been receiving thousands of submissions and hearing from hundreds of witnesses. The Government recently extended the term of the Commission by another six months, which means it won’t report with its recommendations until November 2020. As necessary as this is, it has unfortunately left potential action and redress for older Australians even further delayed.
Let me be clear. The AMA supports the Royal Commission wholeheartedly, and we support the extension of its important work. No doubt more horror stories will emerge over the next year, but Care Can’t Wait until the end of next year or beyond.
Older people will continue to suffer from lack of appropriate basic care, a lack of nutrition, and inadequate access to quality health and medical care. They are vulnerable, they are lonely, they are scared, and their health and wellbeing will suffer.
As a community, we need to rebel at the way our elderly members are treated. We need to respect and value our older Australians, and not allow them to be notionally discarded into a voiceless minority of lower priority budgetary funding.
Why should older Australians be denied access to the medical care and advice they have enjoyed throughout their productive lives – only to be denied it when they need it most?
The short answer – they shouldn’t have to wait. They need better care now. The whole sector needs significant new investment now. It needs leadership!
This is why the AMA has teamed up with the Australian Nursing and Midwifery Federation (ANMF) to push the Government to act immediately to do the right thing by older Australians who need better care, either in residential aged care facilities or in their own homes.
We can't wait for the findings of the Royal Commission to start investing in aged care.
We can't wait while older Australians are being denied the quality of life of life they deserve.
We know that around 120,000 Australians are on a waiting list for a home care package. Home care packages keep older Australians out of aged care facilities. It allows them to be part and parcel of the community that they've grown accustomed to loving and living in, with the support structures, the neighbours, the community health workers, and their local doctors and other allied health professionals who form part of their team.
Last year, 16,000 Australians died while waiting for a home care package. That is a national disgrace. We must stop this happening.
It's important that we allow older Australians to stay in their homes for as long as possible, with the appropriate levels of care for their individual situations.
Looking at the aged care facilities, it is clear that the funding is immeasurably insufficient with what's being required to provide the right environment and right care for the residents - and we're seeing that in the frightening outcomes.
Funding is grossly inadequate to provide the appropriate mix of quality and safety when it comes to the health care team – the vital interactions and communication between doctors, nurses, and allied health professionals.
We know that the lack of appropriate care results in unnecessary and costly emergency department transfers for many residents.
We know that residents lack basic access to the appropriate facilities, timing, and guidance for their medication management. Older Australians are on more than nine medications at one time, on average, so this is a serious concern.
We know, as doctors who make aged care visits, we do not have access to consulting rooms to properly examine patients.
We know that access to the sufficient number of trained registered nurses on a 24/7 basis is lacking.
The aged care system urgently needs a safe and quality skills mix of medical, nursing, and care staff. The increased presence of doctors as part of the care team is vital.
We need to ensure that we put the care back into aged care. Care cannot wait any longer. We need to have that funding discussion now.
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Published: 11 Oct 2019