AMA President, Dr Rosanna Capolingua, said today that the only aged care policies worth voting for at this election would be policies that contain a vision and a strategy to cater for the huge demand for aged care services that will hit Australia over the next few decades. Dr Capolingua said the scope of election aged care policies must not be limited to the three-year electoral cycle.
"Planning for Australia's aged care 'boom' must start immediately," Dr Capolingua said. "Sadly, aged care has been a 'policy free zone' so far in this election campaign. "There was an aged care debate this week, but the announcements from that barely caused a ripple. Nobody is listening because nobody is saying anything worth hearing on aged care.
"We need to see policies that set out a long term strategy embracing workforce issues, bricks and mortar, information technology, and access to services, especially general practice care. "There is a shortage of nurses and carers in aged care. This must be addressed. "There is a serious shortage of aged care places today. Just imagine what it will be like in a decade.
"New aged care facilities must be built now, and there must be ongoing infrastructure planning to stay ahead of demand. "The health needs of older Australians will be more complex and numerous. Access to general practice will be crucial.
"Older Australians should continue to have access to a range of quality health services, particularly at a time of their lives when they need them most. "Community support programs and transport needs must also be addressed. The elderly need to be supported at home as well as in Residential Aged Care Facilities (RACFs). "Primary health care has to be a priority in current and future planning. Just 16 per cent of GPs visit a residential aged care facility more than once a week.
"This must be improved by encouraging GPs and their practice nurses to provide more regular ongoing care for their older patients in aged care facilities and in the community. "Australia has gone through an unprecedented period of prosperity. "We will have failed as a generation if we don't direct some of that wealth to look after our parents and grandparents," Dr Capolingua said.
The AMA is calling for aged care policies that:
• Introduce dedicated Medicare items that improve access to GPs and medical specialists for older Australians and subsequently improve health care delivery, health outcomes and quality of life for older Australians ($100 million per year),
• Encourage GPs to use to use general practice nurses to assist in the delivery of care, in the same way as the home visit item announced yesterday,
• Commit to higher levels of recurrent funding for community and residential aged care to keep pace with the ageing population and to provide quality care at the right time and in the right place,
• Adopt strategies that lead to wage parity between the acute and aged care sector to encourage skilled nurses back into the sector with the capacity to deliver quality aged care services, and
• Improve clinical management and the delivery of care in the residential aged care sector by introducing computer systems that facilitate medical records and prescribing, and which connect the GP to the residential aged care facility and to the pharmacy ($116 million over three years).
• In the next 30 years, the number of people aged over 65 years and over is expected to increase to 2.7 million (from 13.5 per cent of the population to 23 per cent),
• The number of very old people (aged 85 years and over) is projected to almost quadruple to 1.1 million (4 per cent of the population),
• Recent data from the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) indicates an increasing number of residents with high care needs in residential aged care (58 per cent in 1998 up to 69 per cent in 2006),
• Only 16 per cent of GPs visit a residential aged care facility (RACF) more than once a week,
• The Department of Health and Ageing's 2004 aged care homes survey found that 52 per cent of RACFs sometimes had difficulty obtaining GP services for existing residents, and 56 per cent sometimes had difficulty obtaining GP input for routine services such as writing and reviewing medication charts and prescriptions, and
• The current structure of Medicare discourages visits to RACFs by GPs.