Minister Colbeck says assessment process for aged care services ‘does not work’

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The Australian Medical Association (AMA) has gone on the attack after Commonwealth Senior Australians and Aged Services Minister Richard Colbeck said the assessment process for aged care services “does not work”.

As we reported here in January 2020, the Government previously announced plans to merge the Regional Assessment Service (RAS) and Aged Care Assessment Teams (ACAT) into a single “streamlined” service and put the service up for public tender this year, which would have ‘outsourced’ ACAT teams which are currently run out of the State hospital system.

But they were forced to drop the move in March 2020 after backlash from the Opposition, States and Territories, unions and peaks over what was viewed as the ‘privatisation’ of the system.

Now the Government has taken up the Royal Commission’s recommendation for a streamlined aged care assessment process, investing $228.2 million to create a single assessment workforce that will do all assessments.

“I’ve had conversations only in the last few days with people who are going through the assessment process and the confusion and difficulty for them being bounced backwards and forwards between assessment processes is confusing, frustrating and, in my view, we need to get it into a single assessment process,” Senator Colbeck told a Senate estimates hearing last week.

He said the tender process did not necessarily mean state health system involvement would end.

“It may be that the states continue to play a significant role in that I’d be very comfortable if that were the case,” he said. “I’m looking at this in the interest of what provides the best service to residents and the senior Australians who need assessment.”

The AMA says the Government’s response, that will rely on a tender process, leaves assessments open to privatisation and conflicts of interest, with providers likely to seek to take on this role.

“Aged care assessments must remain independent of aged care providers and be delivered by health professionals, especially geriatricians who are trained in dealing with the complex medical needs of the frail and elderly,” said AMA President, Dr Omar Khorshid.

“The Royal Commission’s recommendation was very clear that assessors must be independent from providers because they are effectively deciding on a person’s level of funding for aged care services like home care packages, among other things.”