A national shortage of aged care doctors has left more than half of nursing homes with no choice but to send residents to hospital emergency departments, Catholic Health Australia (CHA) found in a national survey released today.
The CHA Survey of Access to General Practice (GP) Services in Residential Aged Care found 57 per cent of aged care home respondents had on occasion transferred residents to emergency departments (EDs) because of a doctor shortage. Eighteen per cent reported having to do so 'fairly frequently' or 'regularly'.
Advertisement"The national GP shortage means some older Australians are missing out on seeing a doctor in their home, and instead have to be admitted to hospital," CHA CEO Martin Laverty said.
"It's not the fault of those hard working doctors who do visit aged care homes. It's the consequence of not planning years ago for medical shortages as the nation's population ages.
"There are not enough doctors to meet the needs of older Australians who live in residential aged care. Alarmingly, many of the committed doctors who do work in aged care are themselves approaching retirement - which will soon make the shortfall worse."
The CHA network cares for one in every 10 Australians in both hospitals and residential aged care. The survey, carried out in April, reports interaction between aged care homes and general practice to identify doctor service gaps.
"Just under 90 per cent of the aged care homes surveyed reported serious concerns about their interaction with GPs, ranging from poor access to communication," Mr Laverty said.
"Difficulties in organising timely visits because of GPs having full case loads was the most frequently raised concern. The survey suggests there are not enough doctors to care for the ageing, and those who do are over-worked."
After-hours access to doctors was also a major concern. Many residents were unable to continue seeing their existing GPs after moving into residential aged care.
"Aged care homes and doctors need to put solutions to Government as part of the ongoing health reform process to ensure more doctors are encouraged to take up roles in caring for aged care residents," Mr Laverty said.