Aged care for the 21st century – an in-depth look from the federal Minister for Aged Care

Minister for Senior Australians and Aged Care, Ken Wyatt MP

It takes a brave man to front up to more than 200 people concerned about aged care – seniors, carers, children of aged parents and aged care staff – each with their own perspectives, experiences and especially complaints, at Wattle Grove, last month.

The Minister for Senior Australians and Aged Care, Ken Wyatt MP fielded questions and comments from this audience for three hours with empathy and explained government changes planned to improve outcomes.

He said if you construct a pyramid of the population age groups the widest part of the pyramid is those aged 30-40 with younger numbers tapering off.

This has created a pressure point.

Who will look after us when we reach old age?

“In 20 years the number of Australians over 100 years old will have quadrupled,” he said.

“At present the average age at which men enter residential care is 82, and for females it is 84. In 15 years time it will be over 90.

“We need to design for a population living to 100 or more. By then the body may be frail but the mind is often good and the experience of older people is invaluable. They have a wealth of information and can provide value to the community by volunteering and mentoring.”

He said following the Productivity Commission’s report on aged care the government plans to help people stay at home and out of residential aged care facilities for as long as they can, so they can have more fulfilling lives, more fun and stay better engaged with families and communities.

The government is providing home care packages in four categories in addition to residential care. This year the government has provided an extra 20,000 level three and four  packages and released 53 per cent more lower level packages at a cost of more than $5 billion over four years

Mr Wyatt said aged care providers need facilities for couples, perhaps supported accommodation next door to dementia units or house clusters,  providing accommodation for up to eight people who do their own cooking and laundry and as much as they are able.

While there were several horror stories that Mr Wyatt agreed to look into, most audience concern was about low levels of staffing in residential care homes, with one speaker claiming a single carer was left in charge of 30 people living with dementia.

Care workers were stressed too much and we only hear about bad things that happen. This results in a vicious circle with poor staff morale and low pay leading to rapid staff turnover and shortages of experienced carers.

Mr Wyatt said there was a need for increased number of workers on the floor.

”If they know I’m coming to visit a residential care facility, staff levels seem to be very high,” he said.

“I realise that is not the real number.”

He said there is no easy solution to the problem. We need to plan for the workforce for next 20 years.

This includes building a career pathway in aged care with better training opportunities to develop workforce skill and a strategy to encourage more young people to enter the industry.

“At present a person can take an on-line course over six weeks and become qualified without ever having touched an old person,” he said.

“Some people in aged care never receive a visitor, ever. We’re funding a major program to combat loneliness – we’re currently calling on local organisations to get involved to expand the Community Visitors Scheme.

“It is important that people can have confidence in aged care and the protection of their loved ones – a new Aged Care Quality and Safety Commission will create an independent, tough cop on the beat to ensure older Australians receive the best possible care.

Mr Wyatt said the majority of staff are caring and hard working. Negative stories in the media lower staff morale and cause people to leave the industry. They also discourage people from going into aged care.

“Abuse of the elderly has happened, but it should never have happened. I need to know about any abuse in aged care so that I can do something about it,” he said.

Readers can contact the Ken Wyatt’s office on 9359 0322 or email Ken.Wyatt.MP@aph.gov.au