Doctors and nurses have joined forces to demand urgent responses to what they describe as a crisis in aged care.
The country’s two peak medical bodies have argued older Australians cannot afford to wait until the end of a royal commission for problems in the sector to be fixed.
The Australian Medical Association and the Australian Nursing and Midwifery Federation want regulatory changes and additional funding to guarantee the safety of aged care staff and residents.
The groups want mandatory minimums for staff-to-resident ratios, increased Medicare rebates for GPs working in aged care, and greater investment in home care.
AMA president Tony Bartone said aged care standards should not be beholden to budget restraint.
“We can’t assume that they are too big to fail and not invest the appropriate amounts of money,” Dr Bartone told reporters in Canberra on Monday.
He said 16,000 Australians died while waiting for a home care package last year, while nearly 120,000 people were waiting for a package at their approved level.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison acknowledged more needed to be done on home care, but insisted his government was taking action.
He is waiting to receive the royal commission’s interim and final reports, the latter due in November next year.
“It’s going to be a bruising royal commission,” Mr Morrison told reporters in Sydney.
Annie Butler from the nursing federation said the coalition could take action immediately by forcing aged care providers to publish their staffing ratios and reveal how they used publicly-funded subsidies.
“We’re calling on the government to start: start right now, start taking real action,” Ms Butler said.
Ms Butler said it would take four-to-five years to produce better ratios.
She pointed to a Queensland Health study on legislated minimum nurse-to-patient ratios at public hospitals, which found the state had saved more than $50 million in costs since the laws were put in place in 2016.
Ms Butler said there was one nurse for every 100 aged care patients on average across Australia.
Leading Age Services Australia – which represents providers – said mandated staff ratios would not necessarily lead to better trained and paid employees.
Chief executive Sean Rooney also said without more funding, aged care providers would be forced to cut services.
“Urgent action is required to avert the increasing risk of service failures, job losses and missed care,” Mr Rooney said.
Not-for-profit Aged and Community Services Australia said improving aged care services would require more than just new rules.
“Absolutely critical will be new funding solutions and large-scale community education about ageing and aged care,” chief executive Patricia Sparrow said.