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Saturday, May 15, 2021

Dying for the Royal Commission to end

The Aged Care Royal Commission is now into its tenth month of public hearings and what it has heard confirms the community’s worst fears. Indeed, the neglect and abuse of the elderly that the media, particularly the ABC, uncovered and that pressured the government to hold the inquiry are so urgent, time has run out to wait for the final report.

The Prime Minister has, at the Commission’s request, extended its deadline to November 2020.

The Australian Medical Association – representing thousands of doctors, and the Australian Nurses Association – similarly representing those with an intimate working knowledge of the situation, on Monday released a plan of immediate action.

In a joint campaign, the doctors and nurses have blown away any doubts that the causes of the crisis are unknown. We don’t need more evidence from the 6,000 submissions already lodged with the Commission for a government response.

First cab off the rank is their call for significant funding increases for aged care and for tighter regulations that are stringently policed. Clearly, the medical professionals are not persuaded by the assurances of reform given by Australia’s largest private provider, Bupa. This for-profit company with 72 nursing homes has a shocking record. According to the government’s own regulator, 45 of the homes have failed to meet health and safety standards; 22 of the homes have been declared as putting health and safety of residents at “serious risk”.

The prescription of the AMA for the Coalition Government is to put people first. Directing billions of dollars more to the sector, as Scott Morrison indicated this week he is willing to do, will not fix the problem if the providers are able to siphon off the extra money to bolster their bottom lines. This could be a hard ask for a government ideologically dedicated to cutting red tape and to fostering the profitability of private enterprise.

To stop the aged care system deteriorating further, AMA president Tony Bartone says more home-care packages are needed, 24 hour on-site nurses, regulated staff-to-patient ratios and more realistic incentives for general practitioners to attend centres.

Incredible that this is still the situation in 2019. Fourteen years ago, my very wealthy aunt died in a Victorian private nursing home that looked like a 5 star hotel. She had suppurating bed sores and the night she died there was one unqualified staff member on duty who was too busy to attend. What has changed?

Health Minister Greg Hunt says he is doubling aged care funding and points the finger at Labor’s record. Whatever Labor’s failings, that was nearly seven years ago. The least ageing taxpayers should expect is for their government to look after them better.

The 120,000 older Australians still waiting for aged care packages at home, with wait times now at more than two years for the highest levels of care, are literally running out of time to be impressed by political point scoring. They are dying for a genuine response.

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