Qual­ity care for our age­ing

Herald Sun - - OPINION -

AT least one in seven Aus­tralians is now aged 65 or older. In a first-world coun­try of rel­a­tive good health with high lev­els of med­i­cal care, we are liv­ing longer than ever be­fore. Which is, of course, a great thing.

Men and women born in the past three years can ex­pect to live to an av­er­age age of 80.4 and 84.5 years re­spec­tively.

But as more and more el­derly peo­ple come to rely on as­sis­tance, the na­tion’s aged care sys­tem is strug­gling to cope. That is the case now, let alone in com­ing decades.

Any so­ci­ety is mea­sured by the way in which it looks af­ter its most vul­ner­a­ble — both those at the start of life’s jour­ney and those who are in the win­ter of their lives.

In 2015 there were 3.7 mil­lion Aus­tralians of re­tire­ment age, mak­ing up 15 per cent of the en­tire pop­u­la­tion. This is al­most triple the num­ber recorded in 1976.

By 2056, it is es­ti­mated that there will be 8.7 mil­lion older Aus­tralians — a huge 22 per cent of the pop­u­la­tion.

One way to tackle an age­ing pop­u­la­tion is to in­crease the num­ber of peo­ple who are of work­ing age — one of the fac­tors driv­ing gov­ern­ment poli­cies of high im­mi­gra­tion.

As re­vealed in to­day’s Her­ald Sun, the com­ing fed­eral Bud­get will in­clude sweep­ing re­forms to aged care to ad­dress prob­lems of qual­ity as­sur­ance and over­sight and the need for quick dis­ease-con­trol re­sponses.

Last year’s Sen­ate in­quiry into the shock­ing Oak­den nurs­ing home scan­dal in South Aus­tralia crit­i­cised state and fed­eral de­lays in re­spond­ing to the abuse and ne­glect of el­derly de­men­tia res­i­dents. Prob­lems per­sisted even af­ter fam­i­lies had raised con­cerns with health agen­cies.

Along with prob­lems of ne­glect and fail­ures to en­sure that ap­pro­pri- ately qual­i­fied staff are ad­min­is­ter­ing med­i­ca­tions, the aged care sys­tem also faces the prob­lem of con­tain­ing ill­nesses.

Pneu­mo­nia and pneu­mo­nia-like ill­nesses are among the top 15 con­trib­u­tors to deaths na­tion­ally, and the el­derly are par­tic­u­larly sus­cep­ti­ble.

As re­ported to­day, the Turn­bull gov­ern­ment will set up new strike teams to tackle crit­i­cal in­ci­dents such as in­fluenza out­breaks or poor care in aged care homes.

Fed­eral reg­u­la­tors must en­sure that all aged care providers meet stan­dards of safety and of qual­ity care and com­fort.

A ma­jor re­view of the qual­ity of na­tional aged care, by Kate Car­nell and Pro­fes­sor Ron Pater­son, cited Oak­den as an ex­am­ple of some of the most vul­ner­a­ble and un­well in the sys­tem suf­fer­ing as a re­sult of re­ceiv­ing poor care.

“While the sit­u­a­tion at Oak­den is not typ­i­cal, the cir­cum­stances that led to it are cer­tainly not unique,” they said in their find­ings.

The May Bud­get will in­clude fund­ing to cre­ate a new, in­de­pen­dent su­per agency to stream­line the ad hoc re­spon­si­bil­i­ties of what are now three reg­u­la­tory bodies.

Parts of the Depart­ment of Health, the Aus­tralian Aged Care Qual­ity Agency and the Aged Care Com­plaints Com­mis­sioner will be merged.

Re­form of over­sight re­spon­si­bil­ity is needed. But so is sig­nif­i­cant in­vest­ment in a boom­ing sec­tor.

The Her­ald Sun un­der­stands that the Bud­get will in­clude a ma­jor in­jec­tion of funds to im­prove aged care and to ex­pand place­ment op­por­tu­ni­ties.

As Aus­tralia ages, we must meet the chal­lenge of pro­vid­ing pro­fes­sional care for our el­derly fel­low cit­i­zens.

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