Australia’s peak medical body has warned a plan to put assessments of elderly Australians’ care needs out to tender risks dumbing down the expert teams involved and putting profits ahead of patient wellbeing.
The Australian Medical Association said the federal government needed to focus on the many aspects of aged care that weren’t working rather than dismantling one of the few parts that did.
The AMA does not want the government to privatise aged care assessment teams.Credit:iStock
“Our main concern is that this proposal will lead to a dumbing down of the teams simply because the tendering private organisations will be working to a budget and that has the potential for negative impact on public hospitals, on elderly Australians and on the quality of their care,” AMA president Dr Omar Khorshid said.
Aged care assessment teams (ACAT) work out whether elderly Australians could stay in their own home with more support or require residential care. They operate out of public hospitals and include state-employed nurses, geriatricians and social workers.
The aged care royal commission’s final report recommended a single comprehensive assessment process to replace the two existing systems – ACAT and the lower-needs regional assessment service. It said the process should be independent of approved aged care providers and use multidisciplinary teams to assess people with complex needs.
Last year, the federal government walked away from plans to privatise assessments. But in its response to the royal commission in May, it said the process would be streamlined with an approach to market “that allows all organisations with the capability to provide assessment services to participate”.
Sydney Local Health District aged health community services manager Helen Hislop said having ACAT members embedded in the hospital system meant they had access to specialists for further help and could easily view a patient’s public health history. Combined with conversations with their GP, that helped create a richer picture of their health issues.
“They’ve got a foot in both those camps and so they really can make those systems work together as well as possible for the older person,” she said.
But Aged Care Services Minister Richard Colbeck has said the current process does not work, with people bounced between different teams.
“I’ve had conversations only in the last few days with people who are going through the assessment process and the confusion and difficulty for them being bounced backwards and forwards between assessment processes is confusing, frustrating and, in my view, we need to get it into a single assessment process,” he told a Senate estimates hearing last week.
He said the tender process did not necessarily mean state health system involvement would end.
“It may be that the states continue to play a significant role in that I’d be very comfortable if that were the case,” he said. “I’m looking at this in the interest of what provides the best service to residents and the senior Australians who need assessment.”
Dr Khorshid said the AMA agreed the system should be streamlined so there were no longer two assessment processes. But he said the commission’s report was not necessarily recommending getting rid of the state-run ACAT.
“The main concern around the privatisation of these teams is that we expect they would lose their medical expertise,” he said. “The government needs to focus on the many aspects of aged care that are currently not working instead of dismantling one of the few parts of the system that actually works well and simply needs more support.”
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