Federal budget 2021: Aged-care funding falls short of industry hopes

Aged-care funding formed a centrepiece of this year's budget, but experts said the promised funding fell short.

Aged-care funding formed a centrepiece of this year's budget, but experts said the promised funding fell short. Photo: TND

Almost $18 billion will be invested into aged care over the next five years in what the federal government is describing as a “once-in-a-generation reform”.

But advocates say the boost is little more than a good first step.

The massive funding injection forms the centrepiece of the government’s response to the aged care royal commission and includes $6.5 billion for an additional 80,000 home care packages over the next two years, bringing the total number available to 275,000.

From 2023 staff will be required to spend at least three hours and 20 minutes every day with each aged-care resident – a welcome boost that will rise to three hours and 35 minutes by 2024.

And resources were boosted in other areas, too.

From July 2022, at least one registered staff member will need to be on shift at every facility for a minimum of 16 hours a day, while significant amounts of money will be poured into up-skilling aged-care workers and enticing more Australians into the industry, including 33,800 training places under an expansion to JobTrainer.

Workers who stay with the same aged-care provider for 12 months will also receive a $3700 bonus in a bid to improve standards of care.

And about $150 million will be spent on fast-tracking complaint handling.

The federal government says it accepted or accepted in principle 123 of the 148 recommendations of the royal commission, including agreeing to a funding boost of $10 a day per resident.

The overall funding allocated to the sector is now on course to match that spent on Medicare for the first time in history.

Older Persons Advocacy Network CEO Craig Gear said the package was a “great investment” in aged care that was sorely needed.

But he described it as the “start of the journey” when asked whether the government had coughed up enough funding.

Before the budget, Deloitte Access Economics estimated the government would need to tip in an extra $8 billion a year to address the problems raised by the royal commission, while the Grattan Institute had called for an extra $10 billion a year.

“This is a great first investment,” Mr Gear told The New Daily.

“Getting staff in place that are well trained and valued has to be a strong focus over the next few years.

“And the AN-ACC model will really assist in looking at what are the true needs and the true costs within the aged-care system. And then we need to fund against that.”

National Seniors Australia chief advocate Ian Henschke also said he hoped the budget was a first step rather than a final package.

He welcomed the government’s commitment to enshrine a new Aged Care Act by 2023 but said “the devil was in the detail” and it appeared as though the government had undercooked the funding.

Asked by The New Daily if 200 minutes of care per resident was enough to ensure each resident would be treated with dignity and respect, Mr Henschke said: “I don’t think 200 minutes a day is enough to look after the frailest and most vulnerable of our community”.

“It is a base set of transformation, but it has to be a commitment to continue the transformation,” he said.

“This is not, ‘We’ve done the royal commission, we’ll move on’.

“This is, ‘We’ve made quite a big step, [and] we’re going to build on that and build on that until we have the system where you have restored faith in [it].”

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