Quality care for our ageing
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.