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‘Long overdue’: Aged Care Act delay worries GPs


Chelsea Heaney


4/04/2024 4:14:04 PM

Leaked documents have suggested incoming aged care reform could be delayed significantly, as GPs struggle with existing red tape.

Aged care doctor helping elderly patient walk.
Reports suggest the Aged Care Act legislation could be delayed until 2025.

Revisions to the Aged Care Act look increasingly unlikely to be legislated this year, even as GPs voice concerns over existing red tape and predict more doctors will leave the sector before the overhaul is complete.
 
The Aged Care Act, a rewrite triggered by the report of the Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety, was previously earmarked to commence on 1 July 2024.
 
However, 9 News has reported the Federal Government is considering delaying the landmark reforms for up to a year, according to leaked internal communication documents.
 
Federal Aged Care Minister Anika Wells has addressed the forecast delay, saying the Government has received ‘strong feedback’ for the ‘once-in-a-generation opportunity for systemic reform’.
 
‘The Government is now considering the extensive and valuable feedback to refine and finalise the draft legislation before it is introduced to Parliament,’ she said.
 
Minister Wells said it would ‘update the commencement date’ of the legislation, previously slated for 1 July 2024.
 
For GP Dr Khayyam Altaf, who looks after more than 100 patients in residential aged care facilities (RACFs) and is the co-owner of Doctor Aged Care, said the delay is a cause of concern.
 
‘Any reform is long overdue, as the issues our elderly population are facing have been evident well before the royal commission recommendations,’ he told newsGP.
 
‘Although I understand the technical nature of forming legislation, this should be considered a priority as there are challenges that are being faced now and delaying legislation to protect our patients is going to have an immediate and an ongoing impact.’
 
Parts of an initial draft were released for public consultation, with the proposed Act adopting a rights-based approach to caring for older Australians and consolidating multiple pieces of existing legislation.
 
Chair of RACGP Aged Care Specific Interests Dr Anthony Marinucci told newsGP the delay could ‘actually allow further consultation and stakeholder engagement, to ensure the passing of the most optimal legislation’.
 
But from a medical perspective, he said the hold-up could seriously impact GPs being able to ‘properly deliver the proposed care this new act is legislating’.
 
‘I fear [this] will lead to even more GPs leaving aged care – a trend which is already well established,’ he said.
 
Dr Altaf said GPs currently have major issues when trying to secure much-needed support for RACFs and their staff ‘without adding additional red tape’.
 
‘[This] ultimately leads to increased GP workload, taking time away from patient contact which is the most important aspect of healthcare provision,’ he said.
 
Minister Wells said the Government has already implemented its five aged care election commitments.
 
‘[This includes] 24/7 nursing, a record $11.3 billion pay rise for aged care workers and increased transparency through Dollars to Care,’ she said.
 
‘We have also addressed 69 royal commission recommendations and our work is having a tangible impact.’
 
A DoHAC spokesperson said the department consulted widely on the draft bill for 12 weeks, a process which concluded in March 2024.
 
‘During that time views were sought from older people, their friends, family and carers, aged care workers, aged care providers,’ they said.
 
The spokesperson provided a list of the most common matters raised, which were:

  • the time available for implementing the changes under the new Act
  • how arrangements like supported decision-making, whistle-blower protections and the new definition of high-quality care will work in practice
  • the proposed new duty for board members and people in positions of responsibility to act with due diligence to ensure that aged care providers do not cause adverse effects to the health and safety of older people in their care
  • the level of independence afforded to the Complaints Commissioner.
The DoHAC spokesperson added that feedback is now being analysed, which will help inform the final legislation introduced to Parliament.
 
‘The Department is working with legislative drafters to finalise the Bill as soon as possible,’ they said.
 
‘The Department also specifically consulted with the sector on the time they would need to implement the changes under the new Act, so that when the changes came into effect, everyone is ready.’
 
Minister Wells was contacted to confirm the estimated timeframe for the updates to the Aged Care Act, as well as the estimated delay for the legislation, but did not respond prior to publication.
 
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