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Aged care overdue for overhaul: inquiry

A lot of work is required to fix the sector, finds report.

Older Australians are getting a raw deal from the aged-care system, which is riddled with inequities and needs an urgent overhaul, the Productivity Commission has found.

There are gaps in services, waiting lists can be long, quality and pricing remain inconsistent, and people whose needs change over time are restricted by rigid regulations, the commission’s inquiry has found.

It is also getting harder to keep workers in the sector, which - given Australia’s rapidly ageing population - will be a growing problem as the years tick by, it says.

By 2050, an estimated 3.6 million Australians will be reliant on some form of aged care, compared with about one million at the moment.

This makes it more important than ever to get the system working right, the commission says in its long-awaited draft report.

Chief on the list of priorities was giving older Australians the freedom to make their own choices, rather than being passive recipients of services, deputy chairman Mike Woods said.

“Older Australians generally want to remain independent and in control of how and where they live their lives,” he said in a statement.

There was a big “mismatch” between current supply and demand, with a “high and unmet” need for community care packages rather than low-care options at aged-care homes.

But limits on the number of care packages overall meant that demand for places was high, putting providers in a strong position and keeping competition at a minimum.

The whole system needed to be reworked to allow older Australians access to specific services, rather than a pre-determined select list based on their current care level, the commission said.

A new body would be charged with regulating the sector, monitoring prices and handling complaints, which are not independently assessed under the current system.

The commission said called for a new focus on retaining aged-care workers, saying training should be boosted.

Introducing competitive wages for nurses and other care staff was also critical in maintaining the sector.

The commission will accept more written submissions and hold another series of public hearings around the country ahead of the release of its final report, due in June.

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