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Home care wait times down, more people have access to HCPs

New government data shows that the average wait time for home care has fallen and more people have access to home care packages than this time last year.

The home care packages program data report for the period January to 31 March shows that access to an HCP has risen 20.7 per cent since 31 March 2020.

There are 183,376 people with access to a HCP, compared to 151,598 in March last year, which is a 5 per cent increase from 31 December 2020.

In the first quarter of the year, 16,578 people entered a HCP for the first time.

Importantly, the overall wait time for HCPs has gone down significantly.

The data shows that the no wait period for any level of home care package now exceeds 12 months.

Previous government data put wait times for HCPs in a range from seven months for a level 1 package to 34 months for a level 4 package.

As of 31 March 2021, level one package wait times range between 3 and 6 months, with all other packages at a 9-12 month wait.

The number of people waiting for their approved package level without a lower level package has fallen also.

As of 31 March 2021, there were 55,483 people who were seeking a HCP at their approved level, who had not yet been offered a HCP. That number is down from 75,739 in 2019.

There are 31,679 people who were seeking a HCP at their approved level, who had already been offered a lower level HCP, making nearly 90,000 people still waiting for the appropriate level of care.

The government said that there were 27,131 approvals for a HCP in the March 2021 quarter and 43,550 HCPs released, at an average of 3,350 per week.

Leading Age Services Australia (LASA) acting Chief Advocate Tim Hicks said the number of people still without their preferred HCP is "unacceptable".

“We remain concerned that Government has not made a firm commitment to reducing wait times to less than a month, as recommended by the Royal Commission," he said.

He said that while the reduction in overall wait times is "a major milestone for aged care and older Australians”, this improvement may lead to a growing number of people seeking access to home care.

“There is a good chance that falling wait times will increase the number of people coming forward to request a package, and funding does not appear to have been allocated to account for this," he said.

“We remain frustrated that Government has ignored calls from provider and consumer groups to allow people to access their home equity to stay at home while waiting for a package through a low or zero interest version of the Pension Loans Scheme.

“This is a missed opportunity to give people who cannot wait for a government funded package an alternative option – it is basically a no brainer."

Despite adding $6.5 billion to create 80,000 new home care packages over the next two years in this year's federal budget, Hicks said that the government still needs to work on a new design for the home care sector.

He said that bureaucracy and inconsistent regulatory interventions, among other issues, continue to hamper the quality of home care.

“It is hard to see how anyone can expect significant investments in quality improvement to occur when so many providers are already spending more than they are paid," he said.

Of the 80,000 new places announced at the budget, 12,000 will be level four packages, 37,000 will be at level 3 and 36,00 at level 2. There will be 5,000 less packages at level 1 over the two year period.

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