Government’s $1.6 billion home care funding in Federal Budget leaves ‘77,000 waiting’

Paull Garrett describes himself as “a happy sort of chappy”, who often tells people that it “doesn’t matter what cards God deals you, you have to learn to handle the pack”.

But the 79-year-old has not been dealt the greatest of hands in the later years of his life.

The Adelaide man lives with multiple sclerosis and has endured a number of medical procedures over the years, leaving him “hollow”.

“I don’t have very much left inside,” he said.

Like many Australians approaching their 80s, he is eager to avoid going into an aged care home.

In January, he was approved by the Government for a Level 3 home care package, which would allow him to stay at home comfortably with a carer.

But he is still waiting for the funding to come through.

“The last time I was talking to one of the assessors, they said it could be anything up to two years before I might get a package — it’s virtually you’ve got to wait for someone to die,” he said.

“It’s very frustrating … I’m nearly 80, I’m almost at the end of my life, yet I can’t get the things that I need to enjoy that end of my life.

“There’s an old saying of mine: they say that old age is very good, but when you get there you’re too bloody old to enjoy it.”

In this week’s budget the Government announced $1.6 billion for 23,000 additional home care packages to help care for older Australians in their own homes.

Federal Aged Care Minister Richard Colbeck issued a statement today clarifying that the 23,000 home care packages would all be delivered in this financial year.

The Federal Budget papers previously indicated the packages would be released over four years.

Mr Colbeck said the packages in the Budget were on top of the 6,105 packages announced in July.

“These packages offer a real choice for people who are seeking support in the home,” he said.

It is a large sum of money, but not when you consider the number of people in a similar situation to Mr Garrett.

As of March this year, Mr Garrett was one of 59,701 people who were eligible for a package but were still waiting for funding.

Another 44,528 had been offered a home care package, but not to the level of care they need.

“There’s still 77,000 people waiting for a package,” he said.

Funding only goes ‘a quarter of the way’

Linda Sharrock works at the coal face of aged care, managing KompleteCare Community and Home Care service in Adelaide, which provides some care for Mr Garrett.

“As a provider, I welcome the 23,000 new packages but they are not going to meet the needs of all people,” she said.

Ms Sharrock said it would make a huge difference to the recipients, but those who missed out would have to continue to wait until more places become available.

“I would have loved to have seen 100,000 packages announced to meet those needs.”

To receive funding for entry-level care, the wait time is three to six months, but once a person needs funding for the higher levels of care — the kind that means avoiding going into a home — it blows out to over a year.

In the past two years, 28,000 people have died waiting for their home care packages to come through.

That’s 5,000 more lives than the number of additional home care packages announced in the budget.

Package Care needs Annual subsidy
1 Basic $8,845
2 Low $15,562
3 Intermediate $33,866
4 High $51,335

“The sad thing is that we’ve seen people that have passed away while waiting for their package, so they actually never get their package,” Ms Sharrock said.

“The reality is people die on the waiting list.”

In March last year, the then-assistant secretary of in-home aged care at the Department of Health, Fiona Buffinton, was asked how much government funding it would take to reduce wait times to a point where no-one would have to wait more than three months for the appropriate level of care.

“For everybody to get a package within three months, it’s probably in the order of an additional $2-2.5 billion per annum,” Ms Buffinton said.

At the conservative end of that estimate, the Government’s budget promise of $1.6 billion over four years comes up $6.4 billion short.

Pressure on system set to increase

As Australia’s population ages, more and more elderly people will want to continue living in their own homes, and the rapid spread of coronavirus in nursing homes has seen many Australians take stock of their options.

But of the 23,000 extra home care packages funded, only a small proportion will be allocated to people with the highest needs, according to a breakdown of the funding for packages:

  • Level 1: 5,000 packages
  • Level 2: 8,000 packages
  • Level 3: 8,000 packages
  • Level 4: 2,000 packages

National Seniors Australia chief advocate Ian Henschke said the aging population alone would cause demand for Level 4 packages to skyrocket in the coming years.

“We have got in Australia today around 2,000 [people] turning 80 every week, and it’s in your 80s when you need those packages.

“This gives you an idea of what the scale of the problem is.”

The demand for home care packages has increased further by what has been a disastrous year for the aged care sector, with hundreds of deaths connected to COVID-19 in Victorian aged care homes, as well as deadly outbreaks in New South Wales.

“We are in the midst of the COVID epidemic and there is going to be an even greater demand for home care because people now say, ‘I don’t want to go into aged care because I’ve seen what happens where people die in aged care,'” Mr Henschke said.

With the royal commission into aged care continuing, Mr Henschke said the Government would need to do more to change community perceptions that aged care was an industry in crisis.

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