Estate Group update: Federal Government Budget responds to Royal Commission’s report into Aged Care Quality and Safety — ‘once in a lifetime’ change

Jun 8, 2021

On Tuesday 15 June 2021, it’s World Elder Abuse Awareness Day — an opportunity for older people and their supporters to campaign for their right to freedom from violence, neglect and abuse and to bring their concerns and recommendations to decision-makers in their country.

In Australia, the wide-reaching and disproportionate consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic on the elderly in aged care have shone a light on the gaping inadequacies of the sector.

Our latest Estate Group update looks at the final report entitled ‘Care, Dignity and Respect’ from the Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety and the recent Federal Government Budget which promised to deliver a ‘once in a lifetime’ change with $17.7 billion for aged care in Australia.

The Royal Commission’s scathing report into Aged Care Quality and Safety

On 1 March 2021, the Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety tabled its scathing final report, entitled ‘Care, Dignity and Respect’.

With 148 recommendations detailed, the report called for a new system underpinned by a rights-based Act, funding based on need, and stronger regulation and transparency. Over two years of submissions and witness evidence, the Commissioners heard evidence of an aged-care sector in crisis. Among the 148 recommendations, the following areas needed immediate and sustained reform:

Introducing a rights-based aged-care system

The Commissioners observed that for too long the legislation that governs aged care has focused on the funding requirements of aged-care providers rather than the care needs of older Australians. Therefore, they have proposed a new rights-based aged-care system with a new Aged Care Act that sets out the rights of senior Australians, including their entitlement to care and support based on their needs and preferences. Under this system the number of people in aged care would no longer be capped and waiting lists would accordingly dissipate. Further, current dual aged-care programs would be replaced by a single program that amalgamates home care and residential aged-care facilities.

Stronger governance and regulation of the sector

The Commissioners found that stronger governance and regulation of the quality of care was required to rectify the gaps within the system. This would allow for a better regulated system that holds providers to a higher standard and better address any service gaps. Accreditation would be made against new standards with the view to revealing the sector’s most poor performers.

Improving workforce conditions and aptitude

The Commissioners found inadequacies in the quality of care able to be provided to those in aged care and the difficulties of maintaining and retaining a skilled workforce. Recommendations include better wages as well as a new national registration scheme that would require a minimum Certificate III training. Further, facilities would be required to ensure minimum staff time with residents and to report staffing hours each day. This would be essential to an aged-care facility receiving a bare minimum rating.

To read the final report in full, click here.

Federal Budget promises ‘once in a generation’ change to aged care

Released on 11 May 2021, the Federal Government’s Budget promised to deliver what they deemed a ‘once in a generation’ change to aged care in Australia in the amount of $17.7 billion. Primarily in response to the scathing final report and enquiry of the Royal Commission, the aged-care package also intends to build on recent reforms stemming from the COVID-19 pandemic. The reforms are to build on the following five pillars over five years:

  1. Home Care: an additional 80,000 Home Care Packages to support senior Australians who choose to remain in their own homes.
  2. Residential Aged Care Services and Sustainability: to improve and simplify residential aged-care services and access, including improving service delivery for vulnerable groups of senior Australians and better support for transition between aged and health care settings.
  3. Residential Aged Care Quality and Safety: to improve residential aged care quality and safety, including providing further resources to the Aged Care Quality and Safety Commission.
  4. Workforce: to support and grow a better skilled care workforce by enhancing training for workers, particularly in dementia care and providing a variety of additional financial support for registered nurses in the sector.
  5. Governance: to pass new legislation and ensure a stronger workforce, including the establishment of a National Aged Care Advisory Council, Council of Elders and an Inspector-General of Aged Care.

Budget concerns

Although attention to this neglected sector is welcomed, even an investment of this magnitude is not sufficient to meet the ambitions of the Royal Commission. The primary concern is that the budget injects an amount of money into the sector without long-term sustained reform, which would require a much larger package.

Notably, the additional home care packages over two years does not take into account the nearly 100,000 strong waiting list to obtain such a package. Nor has it committed to clearing the waiting list and bringing waiting times down to 30 days as recommended in the Royal Commission.

While the budget does not address the immediate workforce depletion and capabilities, it has provided for additional funding and subsidies for workers to attain a Certificate III, as recommended in the Royal Commission. However, there will be no guarantee that every aged-care worker will be trained to a minimum Certificate III level or that facilities will have a registered nurse on side 24 hours a day. Despite promises to improve the workforce, there are insufficient nurses and care workers to meet the new standards and the workforce is depleted with low wages inadequate to sustain it.

Despite the Royal Commission’s findings that the Aged Care Quality and Safety Commission failed abysmally in its duties, the Government has provided additional funding instead of supporting the establishment of an independent aged-care commission. Public reporting of staffing hours and star ratings of providers will improve transparency, however clear transparency measures need to be put in place to ensure that this increased funding does not land in the pockets of providers.

If you are looking at home care or residential aged care for a loved one, it is essential that you seek appropriate advice. 

More information

Our Estate Group deals with all guardianship, elder law and administration issues and can provide advice in relation to:

  • powers of attorney;
  • VCAT Guardianship hearings;
  • VCAT Administration hearings;
  • capacity disputes;
  • aged care advice; and
  • elder law advice.

If you need advice, please contact a member of our Estate Group:

Sam Frey,
Principal Lawyer and 
Head of Estate Group
+61 3 8600 8885
E sfrey@kcllaw.com.au
Jennifer Maher, 
Principal Lawyer and
Accredited Wills and Estates Specialist
+61 3 8600 0710
E jmaher@kcllaw.com.au
Paul Beasant,
Special Counsel
+61 3 8600 8817
E pbeasant@kcllaw.com.au
Hayley Hunter,
Senior Associate
+61 3 8600 8806
E hhunter@kcllaw.com.au
Ainsleigh Lugger,
Associate
+61 3 8600 8826
E alugger@kcllaw.com.au
Laura Godfrey,
Lawyer
+61 3 8600 8803
E lgodfrey@kcllaw.com.au

Author

This Estate Group update was authored by Laura Godfrey, Lawyer.

Note: This update is a guide only and is not intended to constitute legal advice.

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