The Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety has taken the extraordinary step of releasing a statement contradicting claims by aged care minister Richard Colbeck that suggested the commission recommended privatisation of the ACAT assessment process.
Since November, media outlets have reported that the Government planned to amalgamate the current agencies responsible for aged care assessments – ACAT and the Regional Assessment Service – and offer the tender to the private sector.
The Department of Health Website states that the tender process will happen this year and “the new arrangements will start from April 2021. Current assessment services provided by the Regional Assessment Service and Aged Care Assessment Teams will continue until the new arrangements start”.
This prompted concern from experts, the public and Colbeck’s colleagues at state level. NSW Health Minister Brad Hazard claimed that at a recent meeting of state and federal ministers no mention of these plans was brought up.
“It seems pre-emptive and unreasonable to be effectively privatising health aged-care services while the royal commission into aged care is still underway. Not a lot of logic there,” reported the Sydney Morning Herald.
— Steven Miles (@StevenJMiles) January 14, 2020
In the statement, royal commission chair Tony Pagone acknowledged the public’s concern and made clear that in no way did the commission support any such moves.
“I take this opportunity to make clear that the Interim Report did not endorse the Government’s stated position but noted that we would monitor with interest the implementation which the Government had announced,” he said.
“It is desirable in view of the public concerns and statements which have been expressed that it is made clear that the work of Royal Commissioners is intended to be, and is, independent of Government. Our tasks as Commissioners are detailed in the terms of reference and we have not yet made recommendations about which sector or mechanism will best achieve an integration of Regional Assessment Services and the Aged Care Assessment Teams.”
However, Colbeck fired back on Wednesday saying that the government refutes “claims that our intention is to privatise the assessment process for aged care. That assertion is incorrect.”
“The Government is completely cognisant of the view the Royal Commission has expressed in its interim report regarding the integration of these assessment services as reiterated by Commissioner Pagone today.
“The Government continues to respect the independence of the Royal Commission,” he said.
Labor MP Julie Collins described Pagone’s comments as a “slap down” of Colbeck.
“Senator Colbeck should correct the record and apologise for verballing the royal commissioners,” Collins said in a statement.
The Liberals are obsessed with privatisation – aged care assessments are already being done by well qualified professionals, why would the Morrison Government want to privatise them? #auspolhttps://t.co/YbtcYYsrSQ
— Julie Collins (@JulieCollinsMP) December 30, 2019
Some fear that if the assessment buck is passed on to the private sector the current standard of assessment will decrease and move to a KPI-focused model.
Dr Timothy Woodruff of the Doctors Reform Society said: “A privatised ACAT will be a race to the bottom.
“Poorly trained assessors will inadequately assess complex patient needs as they gouge Government fees for their private owners and force the dedicated assessors out of the system because they will not be profitable. More taxes wasted and gifted to private businesses.”
Neuroscience Research Australia professor of geriatric medicine Tony Broe wrote in a recent opinion piece that this is another misstep in a long history of aged care mismanagement by successive governments.
“[The Government] has failed to deal effectively with the country’s aged health care needs and what has developed is an aged-care crisis with social, political and health-related ramifications,” he said.
“Senator Colbeck is correct to say there are inconsistencies in the service that need to be addressed with a national approach. However, this does not mean throwing the ACAT baby out with the failed aged care bathwater.”
However, two of the aged care peak bodies say they are more concerned with the best possible outcomes for consumers than who delivers the assessments.
Aged and Community Services Australia chief executive Patricia Sparrow told Aged Care Iniste that she is supportive of the Government’s announcement to integrate the RAS and ACAT teams to “deliver consistent and accurate assessment for older Australians”.
“Our concern is not with who delivers the assessment on behalf of the Government, as many government services are contracted out to third parties. It needs to be well resourced so that assessments are accurate and timely allowing providers to confidently deliver the care that’s needed.
“The issue is of the Government providing enough funding to keep the residential care sector, who are struggling, as well as home care providers who are being forced to cut costs to remain viable and deliver the care older Australians require,” she said.
Leading Age Services Australia CEO Sean Rooney said: “LASA supports an efficient and effective system that delivers the best outcomes for consumers, including accurate assessments that provide a strong basis for providers to develop care plans.”Do you have an idea for a story?
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