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22 Mar 2018

The AMA has made a detailed submission to the Government’s Aged Care Workforce Strategy Taskforce, arguing that the aged care workforce does not have the capability, capacity and connectedness needed to provide quality care to older people.

It calls for an Aged Care Commission to be introduced.

Australia has an ageing population that has multiple chronic and complex medical conditions, but older people face major barriers in accessing appropriate and timely medical care.

Medical practitioners must be supported by the Government and aged care providers to enhance and facilitate much needed access to medical care for people living in residential aged care facilities. 

The submission argues that aged care providers need to be supported to ensure access to an appropriate quantity of well-trained staff who work in a rewarding environment with a manageable workload.

“This would ensure older people’s care is not neglected due to shortages of appropriate staff,” it states.

An Aged Care Commission could streamline the aged care system and to help ensures there is an adequate supply of appropriate, well-trained staff to meet the demand of holistic care to a multicultural, ageing population.

An Aged Care Commission would also ensure the aged care workforce has clear roles and responsibilities.

“Australia has an ageing population that is experiencing chronic, complex medical conditions that require more medical attention than ever before,” the submission states.

“For example, 53 per cent of residents in Residential Aged Care Facilities (RACFs) have dementia. This proportion will continue to grow over time, with projections reaching up to 1,100,890 people with dementia by 2056, which is estimated to cost Australia $36.85 billion by the same year.

“A recent study identified that residents of RACFs with dementia had direct health and residential care costs of $88 000 per year. Currently, the aged care system as a whole, and its workforce, does not have the capacity or capability to adequately deal with this growing, ageing population.”

The aged care system needs a strategy, the submission states, to ensure the workforce is appropriate to meet the demands of older people in the future. In order to improve the quality of the aged care workforce, the following is required:

  • An overarching, independent, Aged Care Commission that provides a clear, well communicated, governance hierarchy that brings leadership and accountability to the aged care system;
  • Medical practitioners need to be recognised and supported as a crucial part of the aged care workforce to improve medical access, care, and outcomes for older people; and
  • Aged care needs funding for the significant recruitment and retention of, and support for, nursing staff and carers, specifically trained in dealing with the issues that older people face.

Care of an older person involves a diverse range of professions. All providers of aged care services need to collaborate together to ensure the optimal level of care for the older person. The strategy will be able to provide an ultimate goal for the whole aged care workforce, which should include access to the older person in order for each workforce profession to be able to provide quality care for that older person.

There needs to be a focus on prevention to ensure older people remain healthy for as long as possible to remain in their own home, the submission states, but also to reduce demand and pressure on the aged care workforce.

“Medical practitioners, in particular GPs, regularly incorporate prevention methods as part of providing holistic health and medical care,” it says.

“This includes immunisation, screening for diseases, providing education and counselling to their patient, and also referring the patient to a specialist or allied health professional if required. It is therefore imperative that older people have access to a GP and other services provided by health professionals.”

In its submission, the AMA stresses that the current policy settings do not support GPs visiting RACFs, working after hours, or being available to answer telephone concerns about their patients.

“Our members report that continuity of care goes generally unacknowledged in many RACFs and a resident’s care management plan is not well known,” it says.

“This creates an environment where the default step for RACF staff may be to refer the patient to a hospital emergency department (ED). In a study of 2880 residents of RACFs presented to the ED, one third of presentations could have been avoided by incorporating primary care services.

“Reasons for decisions to transfer residents to an ED include limited skilled staff, delays in GP consultations, and a lack of suitable equipment.”

Medical practitioners also need to be supported within the broader health care system to provide high quality care in RACFs. For example, by local hospitals providing secondary referral, timely specialist opinion, specialist services and rapid referral pathways to advice and services.

Older people are often burdened with complex and multiple medical disorders that requires the regular attention of medical practitioners, quality nursing care and allied health care professionals.

Embracing Information and Communication Technology (ICT) potentially has huge benefits for the aged care sector. It can increase communication between healthcare providers, reduce administrative burden, and assist to improve the health and independence of older people.

Aged care providers require improved ICT systems that are interoperable with the My Health Record, in particular its Medication Overview feature. This would ensure medical health professionals have the tools in place to access all relevant medical information with all relevant stakeholders to improve prescribing and to reduce the risk of adverse reactions and interactions between medications.

“Although working with older people is generally a rewarding experience, it comes with multiple challenges,” the submission states.

“For example, older people can be highly reliant on an aged care worker, and many have behavioural conditions that make day-to-day tasks difficult, and sometimes dangerous for the carer to carry out if the older person’s mental health is not appropriately managed.

“Carers are known to have high rates of moderate stress and depression. The health and wellbeing of aged care staff must be considered for the wellbeing of the workers, and so this stressful environment does not deter people from wanting to work in the aged care sector, or force existing workers to leave.”

Many of the issues outlined in the submission can be rectified by improving the capability, capacity and connectedness of the aged care workforce. Currently, this workforce is not adequately trained to be able to care for older Australians, as older peoples’ care needs are growing in both complexity and volume.

In addition, although medical practitioners are well-equipped to provide quality medical care to residents living in RACFs, they are not adequately supported or remunerated to do so due to the range of issues described above. This has resulted in an unnecessary barrier to quality medical services for RACF residents.

“The aged care workforce needs clear leadership and accountability, which an Aged Care Commission could provide,” the statement says.

“Many aged care governance (and workforce) issues described above have already been addressed in recommendations to the Government as a result of the multiple aged care reviews. Now is the time to act on these recommendations to prevent more unacceptable examples of neglect and bad quality care in RACFs, and to give people living in RACFs the quality of life that they deserve.”

The full submission can be viewed at: https://ama.com.au/submission/title-ama-submission-aged-care-workforce-s...

CHRIS JOHNSON


Published: 22 Mar 2018