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Budget 2020-21: the sector reacts

The coronavirus pandemic and aged care were two of the big ticket items in last night’s Budget.

One of the aged care centrepieces was $1.6 billion for 23,000 additional home care packages. There was also $81 million for additional surge workforce and increased training for aged care workers on top of the funding announced in March.

But Aged and Community Services Australia called the funding a “drop in the bucket” of what is required to set up the sector for the next decade.

“The home care injection is unprecedented and welcome. This is good bang for the buck, however, there will still be thousands of people waiting for the right level of support or any support at all,” chief executive Patricia Sparrow said.

“Measures that allow us to hire young people are good but we need more permanent measures given aged care has to triple our workforce by 2050.”

The Budget also included $8.4 million for supplementary payments to help cover quarantine costs and interstate staff and a $205.1 million extension of the Aged Care Workforce Retention Bonus Payment.

There was also $9.1 million to support the establishment of the Victorian Aged Care Response Centre and more than $12.5 million to increase availability of grief and trauma support services for aged care residents and their families.

Sparrow said while some of the small initiatives were useful “the system needs a reboot not tinkering”.

Leading Age Services Australia said it hoped the funding set out in the Budget will be the start of ongoing investment and reform for the sector.   

Chief executive Sean Rooney said: “Hopefully, this Budget is just a start, a down payment on a better age care system.

“Evidence to the Royal Commission has recently highlighted deep structural problems with funding for aged care.

“While this Budget does not address all of these issues, it does lay a platform for the future.”

While the Australian College of Nursing welcomed the focus on COVID-19, aged care and preventive health, it added that it missed opportunities to effectively address these challenges.

Chief executive Adjunct Professor Kylie Ward said: “We are concerned that in some instances the impact of enabling nurses to practice to their full scope continues to be overlooked.”

ACN commended the decision to extend the successful telehealth items and the $10.8 million over five years announced last week to enhance the skills and competencies of enrolled nurses and registered nurses working in aged care. 

“Tonight’s Budget provides funding for those parts of the health care system where there is the most disadvantage and need, including mental health, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health, rural and remote health care and preventive health.

“However, until the Government and the health care system enables Australia’s 385,000 nurses to be fully utilised, gaps will continue to exist.

“This year more than ever we have been faced with challenges that require innovative responses, and an investment in advanced practice nurses would have gone a long way to contribute to accessible and equitable health care in Australia.”

And Australian Healthcare and Hospitals Association chief executive Alison Verhoeven said: “What we have learned during 2020 is that a strong public sector – in our hospitals, primary care and aged care – is critical to being able to respond effectively to these challenges.

“It is disappointing that there is only a limited focus on strengthening preventive and primary health care.

“An Australian Centre for Disease Control could have positioned Australia to better deal with future pandemic challenges.

“While some new funding for rural primary health care is welcome, there is a missed opportunity to bring this more quickly to scale,” Verhoeven said.

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