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Perfect timing

This opportunity for comprehensive reform must be grasped, and not sidelined, as we debate the details, writes Pat Sparrow.

The Productivity Commission’s draft report has placed aged care reform firmly on the agenda for 2011.

Its long-awaited analysis and recommendations have provided the foundations for a new and sustainable system to meet the challenges Australia faces in the decades ahead.

Other inquiries have endeavoured to correct many of the same problems inherent in an over regulated and under funded system, without success.

Caring for Older Australians cannot be allowed to flounder in the same way.

The report has come at a critical time for our industry and the growing numbers of older Australians amid increased support for fundamental change.

The aged care industry is committed to reform and the government has said it intends to make these reforms a priority in this term.

As an industry, in conjunction with other stakeholders, we must strengthen the government’s resolve to act and make necessary changes.

This opportunity for comprehensive reform must be grasped, and not sidelined, as we debate the details.

Our early analysis of the report supports its emphasis on promoting the independence and wellness of older Australians, their continuing contribution to society and universal entitlement to care and support based on need.

This approach replicates an accepted philosophy behind Medicare – a crucial service that at some stage each of us may need to access and need to know that it’s there.

The community expects that quality residential and community-based aged care services will be readily available when and where we want them. However, the issue of how we pay for them has long been the subject of heated debate, ultimately at the expense of having a sustainable aged care system which offers choice and access.

The issue has once again been raised in the PC’s report, which proposes a range of options for payment of aged care services around shared public and private responsibility for costs.

Funding and payment for services is fundamental. With this report, the community, government, older Australians have all the facts at their fingertips and should be well placed for genuine and mature debate.

The report also provides an opportunity for broad engagement on all the issues involved in ensuring a sustainable aged care system, and there are many.

Community care, which provides the bulk of aged care services, will become even more significant as Australians opt to remain at home, in their communities, as they age.

Industry calls for an independent regulatory system have been addressed in the report with the proposed creation of The Australian Aged Care Regulation commission (AACRC).

It is recommended that regulation is undertaken using a risk-based approach. The proposals for ensuring the right level of regulation, and removing duplicative requirements in areas such as food and occupational health and safety are important.

The commission makes a number of recommendations on workforce issues, most notably the need for pricing/funding arrangements to allow providers to pay competitive wages. This is, of course, exactly what providers want to do.

The proposal for a five year phase in will need careful deliberation to ensure the industry can adapt and make necessary changes within the specified time frame.

ACSA has commended the commission’s work and, with other stakeholders, we have applauded the consultative process and the broad thrust of the report.

We will continue to work through the detail, gaining clarification on some proposals and ensuring that industry views and requirements are well represented.

In addition to a further submission to the commission, ACSA will be speaking to members of all political parties and working with stakeholders as we endeavour to reach a strong accord on the shape and direction of the reforms.

We are on the verge of the most significant transformation of age care in decades. As an industry, as a community, now is the time to demonstrate our resolve and work together to bring about much needed change – a sustainable aged care system able to provide more choice and better access to quality care and services.

Pat Sparrow is acting CEO of Aged and Community Services Australia (ACSA)

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