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"Cruel" aged care system needs rebuild: Royal Commission

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Australia’s aged care system faces a complete overhaul, starting with ending “a cruel lottery” where some older people die before ever finding out if they have won access.

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The aged care royal commission wants fundamental reform and a redesign of a failing system it has labelled “a shocking tale of neglect”.

Those comprehensive reforms will be outlined in the inquiry’s final report in November next year.

But the commission wants immediate action to cut home care waiting lists, stop the over-use of drugs to sedate residents and end “a national embarrassment” by stopping the flow of younger people with disabilities into aged care.

In a scathing interim report, the commission described the aged care system as cruel, harmful, unkind and uncaring.

“It is a sad and shocking system that diminishes Australia as a nation,” commissioners Richard Tracey QC – who died last month – and Lynelle Briggs wrote.

The management of the waiting list for aged care services was a “cruel lottery, in which some people can die before they ever find out if they have, in fact, ‘won'”.

The commission called for significant additional funding for home care packages, both immediately and into the future, to help older Australians remain in their homes.

“It is shocking that the express wishes of older people to remain in their own homes for as long as possible, with the supports they need, is downplayed by an expectation that they will manage,” the commissioners said.

Federal Aged Care Minister Richard Colbeck said the government was putting a lot more home care packages into the system but the way they were delivered needed reform.

“I think given that there’s about $600 million of funds that are tied up with packages that are not being utilised to provide care, there’s also some reform of the system that’s required and we’ll start looking at that now,” he told reporters.

The commission said it was clear the government’s additional packages would not satisfy the current and growing demand for home care, given the extent of the pre-existing waiting list.

It also said there was no reason to delay action on chemical restraints and younger people being stuck in aged care.

Colbeck said the government had brought in new regulations about restraints and continued to work with industry on that process.

The minister agreed younger people should not be in aged care, an issue he said was tied to the assessment process and could be addressed quickly.

Advocacy group COTA Australia chief executive Ian Yates said the government must stop neglecting aged care when it came to budget decisions, both in the mid-year financial update in December and the May federal budget.

“If the government is taking the royal commission seriously and is also serious about respecting the many people and experts who have given their time to the process so far, then they cannot ignore this report and must commit more funds in the forthcoming MYFEO,” he said.

-AAP

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