Council of Elders – Have your say to redesign aged care

Australia’s aged care system currently ticks all the wrong boxes. It is complex, unwieldy, expensive and does not provide the care that older Australians are entitled to expect.

The Commonwealth Home Support Program is supposed to provide entry level care in the home. Support staff are so restricted in what they can do that they end up doing the tasks their clients could do for themselves and leaving the hard tasks to their clients.

At first glance the home care package program is generous. However, there is a wait of around 12 months between assessment and award of a package. Once awarded, the items and services that can be paid for are ill-defined resulting in some $2.4 billion of unspent funds. Moreover, the process by which funds are released is time-consuming and subject to arbitrary decisions by providers and Services Australia.

The Residential Aged Care Program also presents major problems. The Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Service heard heart-rending tales of neglect and downright abuse of vulnerable people. Support services and food quality are limited by providers under pressure to minimise costs to bolster their bottom line, rather than meeting the needs of the older people in care.

The Commissioners made 148 recommendations. All these were accepted by the government. However, the devil is in the detail and these details need to be worked out by all stakeholders, especially the older people who are the present or future recipients of aged care and the people who care for them.

Now we have the opportunity to change the aged care system for the better.

The process is more than just consultation. It amounts to codesign of the new aged care program. To that end the government has set up a Council of Elders, tasked with ensuring that older people’s views are taken into account.

The Council was established last year and has been meeting throughout 2022 in Canberra every three months and virtually every other month. Members are updated by the Australian Government Department of Health and Aged Care about the particular reforms they are working on so they can provide advice that reflects the views and opinions of older Australians and how they might be impacted by the changes being proposed.

Appointment of the Council members was by the Departments of Health and Aged Care  and signed off by the Minister. They have a diverse range of skills and experience and come from all States.

WA members are Dr Gill Lewin, former Curtin University Professor of Ageing, with extensive experience in health and ageing research and Margaret Walsh OAM, a retired nurse manager with extensive experience in disability and aged care services. 

“Unlike some previous attempts at consultation, this one is real,” said Dr Lewin. “Evidence provided by the members will be taken on board and used to provide the basis for forming detailed proposals.

“My ‘constituency’ is the ageing research community. I know the current research issues, but I’m also keen to speak to individuals and groups of older people or those involved in their care.

“We also need to consult people living with dementia; as many people with lived experience of dementia have a lot to contribute.

“There is value having people with dementia living in the community. It will help educate people about the condition and reduce the stigma attached to a diagnosis,” she said.

Ms Walsh is speaking to retirees’ organisations including Association of Independent Retirees, WA Self-Funded Retirees, National Seniors, Older Persons Health Network Expert Advisory Group, Older Persons Advocacy Network and COTA and the Aged Care Reform Now Group, most of whose meetings she attends regularly.

She said: “Most older people are not interested in participating or consultation, but it is important.

“This is a once in a lifetime opportunity to get the aged care system right. All Australians should have input as the reform will affect all of        us eventually.

“We need to get it right now. This is our chance to tell the government what we want,” she said.

Margaret and Gill want to hear your concerns or issues with the current and proposed aged care reforms either by phone, text or email, so they can feed these back to the Department and Government. 

They would also be more than happy to talk to groups/organisations or meet with individuals in person. Contact them here:

Margaret Walsh 0487290097

Gill Lewin 0455351753

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Frank Smith was trained as an agricultural scientist in the UK, moving to WA in 1974 and shortly afterwards began lecturing at WAIT (now Curtin University) in soils and agronomy. In 1979 he joined the Agriculture Protection Board in charge of publications and media relations, studying part time for a degree in Journalism. In 1992 he spent a year as a visiting professor at the University of Missouri-Columbia. Later he ran a small publication company with his wife Mary-Helen. He then began freelance writing, editing and book indexing. He has written articles for more than 40 magazines in four continents and indexed more than 20 books. In 2007 he started writing for Have a Go News and gradually reduced his writing for other publications. He later took over the subediting, ensuring Have a Go News is consistent in style and highly readable. He and Mary-Helen live in a passive solar home in the Perth Hills with a varying collection of quendas and native birds.