Australia’s aged care system must change in fundamental ways to show older Australians the level of appreciation, respect and dignity they deserve, the royal commission into the sector has heard.
Closing the first two weeks of hearings in Adelaide on Friday, counsel assisting Timothy McEvoy has detailed a broad range of issues raised by a series of witnesses.
They include problems with the sustainability of funding, poor staffing levels and the lack of adequate training, delays in the provision of home care assistance, high workloads experienced by carers, the financial pressures on providers and issues associated with the use of chemical and physical restraints.
Dr McEvoy says older Australians are entitled to a level of care and respect which the aged care system too often denies them.
“There were many views expressed in the hearings that the system is too often failing the people who need its help,” he said.
Dr McEvoy also paid particular attention to what he described as the “scourge of dementia” with forecasts that by the middle of this century, one in three Australians will be struck down by the condition.
“It is clear that understanding and accommodating the needs of Australians with dementia will be critical to the design of the aged care system going forward,” he said.
But he said the commission had already heard of a range of issues with dementia care, including a lack of community awareness, a lack of dementia-specific staff training, a lack of facilities for dementia sufferers and inadequate funding for their specific care needs.
Dementia will be a topic of particular concern at the inquiry’s hearings in May, the commission was told.
Dr McEvoy said if Australians were to have a dignified future as they age, the care system must respect the lives they led in their younger years.
He recounted evidence presented by Health Services Union president Gerard Hayes who told of how on Anzac Day each year carers dress the veterans up for their day of remembrance.
“But once that day was done and the medals were off, the remembrance was over for another year,” he said.
“The obligation the Australian community owes is not to stop remembering.”
Dr McEvoy said the nation’s challenge was to accord that same level of respect, appreciation and dignity every day.
“Our aged care quality and safety system must meet this challenge,” he said.
“But ultimately, none of this will happen if we, as an Australian community, do not commit to it ourselves.”