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Royal commission tackles intersections between aged and health care

The aged care royal commission is in Canberra this week to unpack the “patchwork quilt” older Australians and their loved ones confront as they navigate the interfaces between aged care and health care.

Opening the week’s first hearing, senior counsel assisting Peter Gray said: “Access to health services is perhaps best described as a patchwork quilt where the pieces don’t join particularly well.

“In some areas with an active primary health network or local hospital network, older people in aged care receive excellent services. In other areas, access is much more limited.”

Gray also detailed the royal commission’s analysis of health data that showed in the financial year 2016-2017, almost 70 per cent of permanent aged care residents did not see a medical specialist outside hospital settings.

“This is much worse than the comparative figure in the community; about 40 per cent of similarly aged people living in the community did not see a medical specialist in that financial year.

“Remember that these people are the most vulnerable in the aged care system and have the most complex chronic conditions; that’s why they need residential care.”

Today’s hearing started with direct experience witnesses including Kristine Stevens, who spoke of the difficulty she experienced seeking specialist care for her mother’s wound, which became life-threatening.

When asked by counsel assisting whether she made enquiries as to whether the wound specialist that saw her mother in hospital could visit her in her aged care facility after discharge, Stevens said she was told it wasn’t possible.

“I’m not sure why it wasn’t possible, whether it was to do with funding or whether it was to do with just rules that surround aged care,” Stevens said, “but they are able to visit elderly people in their own homes but they’re not allowed to visit elderly people in aged care facilities.”

Later in the hearing, senior representatives of Australia’s health departments will be asked how system interfaces can be improved.

The Secretary of the Department of Health for the Commonwealth, Glenys Beauchamp, will be asked to respond to the same propositions for improvement.

On Friday, the royal commission released the consultation paper ‘Aged care program redesign’. It can be viewed here.

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