Five weeks out from the deadline for the Royal Commission’s Final Report, the latest Productivity Commission report on government services suggests the Counsel Assisting’s recommendation to clear the home care queue by the end of 2021 can’t come soon enough.
The median wait time for a Level 4 Home Care Package in 2018-20 was 28 months, with times for a Level 1 package sitting at six months, 14 months for a Level 2 and 18 months for a Level 3.
As you can see from the chart above, these times are actually a reduction on the times in 2018-19, when the median waiting time for a Level 4 was 34 months – almost three years.
Residential waiting times also continue to drag, with only 42.2% of older Australians approved for residential aged care entering care within three months of their approvals.
The median waiting times was 148 days or around 21 weeks – just short of the 152 days recorded the previous year.
100,000 older Australians waiting for home care
New Senate Estimates data out this week also shows there were 99,268 people on the waiting list as of 30 September, 2020 – NSW topped the list with over 32,000 waiting for a package followed by more than 27,000 in Victoria and 15,000 in Queensland.
None of these numbers reflect the latest packages that have been rolled out, including the 23,000 announced in the October Budget and the 10,000 packages released last month as part of the Government’s Mid-Year Economic and Fiscal Outlook (MYEFO).
However, in the three years up to mid-2020, over 30,000 older Australians died waiting for their approved home care package.
Ian Yates says home care waiting times should be cut to less than a month
So, what is the solution?
The Royal Commissioners pinpointed the home care wait list as one of its three priority measures in its Interim Report back in October 2019.
In its final hearing last year, the Counsel Assisting recommended to the Commissioners that they focus on moving aged care to a demand-driven system and clearing the queue by the end of 2021.
COTA Australia CEO Ian Yates (pictured right) tells us that he expects the Royal Commission to recommend scrapping the four existing home care packages in favour of individual packages under its revised aged care program.
A Level 5 package would be among the options for interim measures until the new program is rolled out, which would meet the Royal Commission’s likely recommendation for the highest level of home care funding to match residential care funding.
Ian says he “100%” expects a very substantial number of packages to be released in the May Budget, but this needs to be matched with a timeframe to help providers recruit and train the staff that will be required.
Where to find – and train – the workforce?
He points out that the Government has said many times that it is rolling out packages as fast as it believes the sector can handle the workforce implications.
“The staff going into people’s homes have to be trained and competent,” he said.
“As much as I want the wait list to disappear overnight, you cannot do so without lead time.”
With aged care expected to move to a demand-driven system, the COTA CEO also says this will drive more people onto the wait list, which he wants to see drop to a month.
“It’s a significant challenge facing the Government and the sector but actually it is relatively straightforward compared to residential care.”
An easy ‘tick a box’ for the Government?
Clearing the wait list is not unrealistic – doing some back-of-envelope calculations based on the average Home Care Package providing between $9,000 and $52,000, the Government will need $2.9 billion to clear the backlog.
It also offers the Government an easy ‘tick a box’ way to meet what will likely be one of the Royal Commission’s major recommendations.
The question is then: would that take the heat off the politicians to implement other recommendations?
Not all Royal Commissions turn the system upside-down to quote Commissioner Lynelle Briggs – see the next story.