We're Still Waiting for Aged Care Reform

We're Still Waiting for Aged Care Reform Main Image

24 March 2021

I rise to speak on today's MPI with a heavy heart, especially after hearing the minister speak about those who lost their lives waiting for care as 'rates', not human beings; and it appears that he's read his three principles of 'care, dignity and respect' off the cover of the report. I lost my father, Grant, to younger onset dementia when he was 68 years old. I lost my grandma Mollie to dementia. I promised my mother, Barbie, who cared for my grandma and my dad, that I would do everything I could in this job to ensure that other people and families would have good care.

I was saddened but not surprised by the final report of the Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety because my experience of aged care, of substandard care, goes back to my first year as a registered pharmacist, in 1998, when I was responsible for the daily medication orders for several psychiatric aged-care homes in the inner west of Sydney. The shock I felt walking into a psychiatric aged-care home for the first time was overwhelming. I had to walk out, try to pull myself together and walk back in because people needed care and that day's medication order had to be delivered.

And now, over 20 years later, the government has received the final report of the Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety, shining the light on the abuse and neglect that has been going on for decades. The royal commission detailed 274,409 self-reported cases of substandard care and 32,715 calls to the My Aged Care hotline that went unanswered in just one year. Many people will remember that the government only called this royal commission because it was shamed by a Four Corners media scandal back in 2018. This inquiry, 'the most in-depth and thorough examination of Australia's aged-care system'—according to counsel assisting, Peter Rozen—held almost 100 days of hearings and accepted more than 10,500 public submissions. And the result? A tale of neglect.

The interim report released in 2019 found that the aged-care system failed in its duty to support older Australians. I know that the minister is not in the chamber anymore, but I'm going to quote directly from the interim report. I think he needs to hear this after talking about older Australians needing care as 'rates', not human beings. The interim report states that the aged-care system 'does not deliver uniformly safe care for older people. It is unkind and uncaring towards them. In too many instances it simply neglects them.' This government has had nearly eight years to look after older Australians properly. It has had nearly 18 months to act on the urgent recommendations of the interim report.

This crisis, as others have said, is largely of the government's own doing. The Prime Minister was Treasurer when the government cut $1.7 billion from aged care. Now there are close to 97,000 older Australians waiting for a home-care package during COVID, when many people and families are afraid of entering residential care. Those needing more support while waiting for level 4 packages are often waiting more than a year for the help that they and their families and carers so desperately need. Over 28,000 older Australians have died while waiting for a home-care package. They're not a rate, Minister; they're not a percentage to compare to the wider population. These are people; these are mums and dads and grandparents; these are people who matter. And you have reduced them to a rate or a percentage; that is a disgrace. In my community, on the Central Coast of New South Wales, one in five people are aged over 65 and there are currently 1,109 people waiting for a home-care package—people like Enid, who, at 96, was told she would have to wait 12 months for a level 4 home-care package. It's not good enough.

Growing old is not easy. As the interim report observed—and I think it is important that this be read onto the record—'we avoid thinking and talking about it, leading to an apparent indifference where, left out of sight and out of mind, these important services are left floundering'. I know of people, some living with dementia, who, after a fall or a hospital stay, have ended up in residential care after their families and carers have become exhausted trying to keep them at home. I was with my Dad when, after an exhausting battery of tests, he was finally diagnosed with younger onset Alzheimer's dementia. He said to me: 'You will never leave me dribbling in a nursing home.' This is a very real fear for many people living with dementia, and I am determined to keep my promise to my mum, Barbie, that it will be better for other families. But kind words and good intentions won't help people like my dad's friend Steve, who was moved into residential care during COVID. It has to be better; it's urgent. What the government have done so far suggests that they don't care and don't know that it matters.