“Now is an exciting time to be involved in aged care”. Those were the words of Graeme Prior, CEO of aged care provider, Hall & Prior, and member of the National Aged Care Advisory Council to me recently: “There is no doubt that we have the ingredients for meaningful reform. The journey has already started under the previous government, and we now have a new government that campaigned explicitly on aged care and that has a mandate for implementing the Royal Commission’s recommendations. It’s all there”
However, the troubled relationship between the aged are sector and the community, eroded by the blistering findings of the Age Care Royal commission and 3 years of consistently negative publicity, will need to be restored if Australia is to address key issues critical to the implementation of a world class, high quality, aged care system. For example, one of the most pressing issues to be resolved is that of aged care system funding. New UNSW modelling suggests future aged care costs could easily be more than double what Treasury is predicting. Further, UNSW has concluded that aged care service funding on a universal entitlement basis will be financially unsustainable if we rely purely on consolidated tax revenue. We know that an alternative funding solution for aged care services is required and that it is going to need to involve increased co-contribution by users as well as some kind of NDIS-type levy. Does the political will of either party extend that far? No. Not in the face of the trust deficit between the aged care sector and the community. As Graeme points out:
“Enormous damage has been wrought by the terrible stories emerging from the Royal Commission. The aged care sector must now restore the trust of the Australian people over the next two or three years that it can safely, 24 hours a day, seven days a week, care for their loved ones.”
In the face of the work that needs to be done to rebuild trust and the promise of “no new taxes” during the election, it seems unlikely that the new Labor government is going to go out on a limb for a difficult conversation with voters about co-contributions and levies.
Meaningful reform is also reliant on the energy and commitment of the aged care sector leadership. The pace of reform has been relentless over the past 3 years and will only increase. In the first term of government alone, we will see a new Aged Care Act, a new funding model, a new pricing authority and the introduction of mandatory care ratios and minimum care times. My hope is that the new Labor government continues to recognise and prioritise the importance of aged care system reform and that the sector leadership can keep the faith and push through this next phase. The risk of failure is not that the system could fail wholesale, that is unlikely. The risk is that the opportunity for reform that arose out of the Aged Care Royal Commission will not be realised because the community (and by extension its politicians) is not yet ready to have the more difficult conversations around age care system reform. So yes, it sure is an exciting time to be in aged care but, as Graeme also points out, it starts with trust:
“There must be a determination by all stakeholders in the sector and in government, federal, state and local at all levels to work together and to rebuild trust, transparency, openness, accountability”
Only once trust is restored will the compact between the Australian people, government and the aged care sector to be realised to deliver meaningful reform. For the sake of all elderly Australians and the sector that supports them. I very much hope this occurs, and soon.