An extra $621m per year is needed to lift all aged care homes in Australia up to “basic standards”, according to research conducted for the aged care royal commission.
The research found “there’s not a lot of fat to trim” in a system already “constrained by funding”, and singled out for-profit aged care facilities as being the least likely in the sector to provide the best quality of care to older Australians.
The damning findings come as the federal government and the aged care minister, Richard Colbeck, continue to weather intense criticism of their handling of the Covid-19 pandemic in the sector.
The research, led by the University of Queensland, relied on on five years of financial data and care quality indicators including resident satisfaction and care needs that were developed by the University of Wollongong.
According to the paper, state government run facilities and small-sized homes with 15 beds or less are the most likely to deliver the best quality of care, but major discrepancies remain.
Of Australia’s best quality aged care homes, 24% are state government-owned homes, 13% are not-for-profit facilities and 4% are for-profit homes.
Of aged care facilities rated as providing the best quality of care, 41% are homes with one to 15 beds, while 17% are homes with 31-60 beds and just 5% are homes with 61-120 beds.
The research estimates providers would need to spend an extra $3.2bn per year in total for Australia’s entire aged care system to shift to the smaller home model to achieve a sector-wide high-quality standard.
“Funding levels might need to be much higher than the estimates ($621 million) if the Australian community and the Royal Commission aspire to achieve a higher quality in the future than facilities have achieved historically,” the UQ paper says.
Research author Associate Professor Tracy Comans told Guardian Australia “in terms of efficiency of the sector we’re finding there’s not a lot of fat to trim”, with total cost efficiency found to be 88% in the aged care system.
“The [state] government-run nursing homes are less constrained by staffing issues and costs, as they have access to additional funding from their respective state, but the other providers don’t have that extra funding,” she said, noting other providers rely on federal funding and fees.
The funding estimates follow an earlier research paper submitted to the royal commission in July, which showed Australians strongly support increasing government funding for universal access to high quality aged care.
A majority of the 10,000 surveyed – none of whom engaged with any aged care service – felt the government should double its spending on aged care, from 4% of income tax collected to 8%.
This week, Labor has repeatedly used question time to pursue the government over its handling of the aged care sector, which has been ravaged in Victoria’s second wave of the coronavirus. More than 300 Victorians associated with aged care have died from the coronavirus thus far.
On Wednesday, the opposition quoted Liberal MP Russell Broadbent who told Guardian Australia this week that aged care is a “disaster waiting to happen” because “profit became more important than care”.
Broadbent said he had warned his government about this but was “completely ignored”.
The opposition aged care spokeswoman, Julie Collins, accused the prime minister, Scott Morrison, on Wednesday of cutting funding to aged care.
“Even before Covid-19 hit aged care, almost 200 nursing homes across the country were on the brink of closure after Scott Morrison cut $1.7bn from aged care as treasurer,” she said. “You don’t fix aged care by cutting it.”
Collins also called on the prime minister to sack Colbeck from his role as minister, after he was unable to tell a Senate select committee into Covid-19 how many aged care residents had died from coronavirus.
On Monday, a report into the Covid-19 outbreak at Sydney’s Newmarch House was released, which found that a lack of staff, plus confusion about which state or federal government health authority had decision-making power to send infected residents to hospital, contributed to the 19 resident deaths.
Earlier this week, the aged care royal commission criticised the Morrison government for failing to establish independent monitoring and reporting of aged care quality outcomes.
The commission has previously heard the federal government did not have a plan for responding to Covid-19 outbreaks in aged care, a claim Morrison and health bureaucrats denied.
Source: The Guardian