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Government Finances Causing Aged Care Hospital Crisis

Seniors in Sydney and beyond are being forced to stay in hospitals instead of being given appropriate aged care services according to local government representatives. This has prompted stakeholders to voice their concerns regarding key aged care issues in a senate inquiry recently.

The termination in the Federal Budget of the National Partnership Agreement on Financial Assistance for Long Stay Older Patients last May had some serious effects on Australian states and territories. This $42 million initiative used to cover the costs of older patients who needed longer stays in the hospital. One State Government in particular, told the inquiry that the Commonwealth Government have fallen short of funding sufficient aged care beds, especially in rural and regional areas.

The ACT Government talked to the Senate Select Committee on Health and advised them that an average of 30 patients from public hospitals everyday need to have access to aged care services. This delay in moving to aged care costs hospitals $1,200 per day. The Canberra Hospital for instance, has been experiencing a surge of aged care patients for the past two years, while an increase in the average length of stay has also been felt. The South Australian Government also stated in the senate hearing that patients who are staying in hospitals longer than clinically appropriate should be of primary concern.

They further elaborated that people tend to overstay in hospitals because there are no aged care services available or they are waiting for their finances to get settled before they can move to a nursing home. In one regional hospital alone, there are around 60 to 70 beds currently occupied by overstaying older patients. Other problems include under utilization of nurses and inadequate Medicare funded GP tele-health services.

The Australian Medical Association pointed out to the inquiry that there is a need for the aged care sector to be properly recognised as a part of the health system. The significant numbers of doctors who are soon retiring in Australia also poses a threat in the availability of doctors dedicated to aged care residents. This should be included in facility and health care planning.

The Proposed GP Co-Payment

The ACSA and LASA alerted the inquiry about the possible negative effects of the proposed $7 per visit  co-payment imposed to older people for their access to medical services. ACSA is concerned that not all older people can afford the $7 Medicare co-payment which may result in them skipping their doctors appointments. LASA also advised that the co-payment process is an added charge on aged care providers and will possibly incur significant cost.

ACSA’s submission also called for ‘falls prevention programs’ that should be implemented at a national level. The rate of falls that cause hospitalisations in Australia is increasing and this costs the government a whopping $8.4 billion per year. The entire aged care expenditure by the Federal Government is $13 billion. According to ACSA’ falls prevention programs’ would be a good public policy to reduce risks (and costs), especially now that people are living longer.

Hopefully the state governments and the Australian Federal Government can get together to sort these financial funding problems out. Let’s hope it stops impacting on Sydney aged care residents and their families.

Regards, Phil

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