Australia’s aged care sector will need more than half a billion dollars annually just to achieve basic quality consistently in nursing homes, researchers say.
The first of its kind study also found just 11 per cent of residential aged care facilities met all accreditation standards and had no complaints.
“Australians expect that all are entitled to the best quality level of care in aged care homes,” Aged Care Commissioner Tony Pagone said in a statement on Thursday.
“Additional funding will be needed to enable providers to meet those expectations consistently.”
University of Queensland researchers found residential aged care facilities could be broadly clustered into three quality levels, with 79 per cent failing to meet all accreditation standards or a higher than average use of high-risk medicines.
A further 11 per cent of homes were found to have an even higher level of accreditation failure and complaints or issues.
Only the top 11 per cent reported no issues, met all accreditation standards, and had a lower than expected use of high-risk medicines.
“Meeting all accreditation standards is really just the minimum of what most Australians would expect of residential aged care facilities,” researcher Associate Professor Tracy Comans told AAP.
“If we really want to improve quality for residents, we need to put more resources into measuring quality routinely and rewarding high quality with additional funding.”
The study for the Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety found the cost to have all residential aged care homes operating in their current size at the same level as the top 11 per cent was estimated to be $621 million per year.
Researchers also found that government-owned and small-sized facilities were more likely to demonstrate a higher quality of care.
More than 20 per cent of residential facilities in the best quality group were government-owned homes, with just four per cent for-profit homes.
Meanwhile, over 40 per cent of very small-sized facilities, with 15 or fewer beds, were among the best-performing homes.
But as the facilities became larger, the proportion of facilities in the highest quality decreased.
None of the very small-sized homes were in the lowest quality group and none of the biggest facilities, with over 200 residents, were among the highest quality homes.
Researchers said the sector would need about $3.2 billion extra per year to care for people in smaller homes of less than 30 people.
The study also noted that focusing on quality improvement rather than cost-minimisation may have wider benefits.
For example, better care and quality of life for residents may reduce the need for hospitalisations, spending on high-risk medicines, as well as reducing workplace injuries and accidents.
The cost to care for the more than one million older Australians in residential aged care facilities is currently about $13 billion, with residents contributing a further $4.7 billion, according to the Aged Care Financing Authority.