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Prime Minster Scott Morrison with Senator Richard Colbeck (left). Photo: AAP Image/Mick Tsikas.

Government performs U-turn on ACAT privatisation

The Government announced on Friday that it will abandon its controversial plans to privatise the ACAT assessment process.

A communiqué released from the COAG Health Council meeting said: “The Commonwealth has confirmed that it is not proceeding with the current tender process.

“Over the longer term the Commonwealth will take advice from States and Territories and from the Royal Commission about what the exact delivery mix should be.”

This comes after months of anger from the public, the sector and several politicians over the plans, which some say would lower the standard of assessment and focus on profit over care.

Earlier this year, the federal government’s state liberal colleagues questioned the logic of the plan. NSW Health Minister Brad Hazard claimed that at a 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.

Meanwhile, federal Liberal backbencher Russell Broadbent recently told Parliament that there was no justification for the privatisation plan.

“I’ve been in situations where areas have been contracted out in my past life and there is a great loss of experience,” Broadbent said.

In a rare statement, aged care Royal Commissioner Tony Pagone came out against the decision and rebuked Aged Care Minister Richard Colbeck over his claims that the royal commission advocated privatisation of the ACAT system.

“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.”

The Australian Nursing and Midwifery Federation welcomed this about-face and reiterated that any moves to privatise any government aged care functions goes against the findings that the royal commission has made so far.

ANMF federal secretary, Annie Butler, said: “The ANMF questioned why the federal government’s pre-emptive decision was made before the Royal Commission into Aged Care had a chance to deliver final recommendations.

“It would have affected existing assessment services expertly delivered by a skilled workforce of registered nurses, geriatricians, allied health professionals, social workers and others, jeopardising the jobs of hundreds of skilled practitioners.

“And most importantly, consumers in need of expert support could have been directed to a for-profit provider, not independent of the care provider, effectively leading to the privatisation of ACAT, where older members of the community in need of care could have been placed at the mercy of businesses.

 “As has been clearly demonstrated by the Royal Commission so far, the failures of the ‘market’ in aged care are profound. The ANMF was therefore deeply concerned that these failures would spread to ACAT and destroy this expert service.

“We are very pleased that the COAG Health Ministers’ meeting has reversed the Federal Government’s decision and thanks all those who advocated to retain ACAT and maintain focus on safety, respect, reassurance and continuity of care for our elderly.”

Queensland’s Health Minister Steven Miles has also welcomed news as any planned changes to ACAT “was bad for patients waiting in hospital for an aged care place, and because more than 250 Queensland jobs were at risk,” he said.

“We are pleased the Commonwealth has heard our concerns and will work with the states to ensure aged care assessments are undertaken by the public system.

“The Royal Commission has so far found that the Morrison Government is failing our elderly Queenslanders.

“The last thing Australia’s aged care system needed was more privatisation. A lot still needs to be done to fix aged care, but we welcome this announcement today.”

Minister Colbeck has been contacted for comment.

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