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Health and aged care interface the budget winner

Improving accessibility and supporting wellbeing through better integration of services

Some might say the latest federal budget doesn’t go far enough, particularly when it comes to holistic measures to support health and wellbeing in older people – but when you take a closer look, the boost to the health and aged care interface presents significant benefits.

The $2.2 billion investment in aged care, in addition to the Australian Government’s commitment to funding the Fair Work Commission’s Stage 3 decision, is being distributed to several
important areas of need, including workforce, an additional 24,100 home care packages and the improvement of digital systems.

But what hasn’t received much attention is the portion of total funding – $810.4 million over four years from 2024-25 – directed to the states and territories to invest in initiatives that address unnecessary long-stay hospital admissions for older patients.

Another $190 million over three years from 2025-26 has been allocated to the extension and redesign of the Commonwealth’s Transition Care Programme to provide short-term care of up to 12 weeks for older people following hospital discharge.

“The health and aged care interface has been a source of concern for some time,” said Anne Liddell, Head of Policy, Aged & Community Care Providers Association (ACCPA). “We know that without the right post-hospital care, there are risks of declining health and a greater chance older people will be forced to transition to permanent residential aged care before they intended, particularly if they are living alone. “In other cases, where a patient is ready for discharge but requires a period of extended personal or clinical care for full recovery, it is often difficult to source an appropriate level of Home Care Package or suitable accommodation in a local aged care home.

“This can create dependency and poor health instead of encouraging rehabilitation and reablement.

“Initiatives that support timely transition out of hospitals into dedicated short-term care are a win-win – freeing up vital hospital beds while giving older people the best chance to regain their health and independence.

“We’re pleased the government has recognised this critical area of need in our health and aged care systems.”

Focusing on better care for people living with dementia, $56.8 million over five years from 2023–24 has been set aside for the expansion of the Commonwealth’s Acute to Residential Care Transition Service dementia program, aimed at transitioning long-stay patients with behavioural psychological symptoms of dementia from hospital to a residential aged care home.

In addition, as part of the $1.2 billion Strengthening Medicare package in the budget, states and territories will be funded $882.2 million to deliver programs that help older patients avoid unnecessary hospital admissions, provide hospital outreach services in the community as well as virtual care services, and training to upskill residential aged care workers to care for older people with cognitive decline and complex needs.

“Hospitals have a distinct function as acute or subacute care services, which are generally not equipped to support patients with rehabilitation or reablement, particularly those with complex needs,” said Moe Mahat, ACCPA’s Senior Policy Advisor. “We need to ensure people living with dementia have access to services with the capabilities to understand their needs and appropriately manage associated behavioural and psychological symptoms.

“ACCPA has been advocating for better access to hospital outreach and virtual care services, and we are pleased that more funding will be available to deliver these services.

“We also welcome the government’s expansion of the Acute to Residential Care Transition Service, but it is vital that the ongoing costs of supporting residents with dementia are adequately funded under the AN-ACC model so that services can provide the level of care such residents need while remaining financially viable.”

The budget also addresses the needs of people living in rural, regional and remote Australia, with $73.8 million over three years from 2024-25 to support the Royal Flying Doctor Service and $47.5 million over four years from 2024-25 (and $14.1 million per year ongoing) to expand Healthdirect Australia.

“We know access to healthcare services for people living outside major urban centres is an ongoing issue, and we welcome investment that will allow more Australians to receive primary care and dental health services,” said Anne. “Older people who have lived and worked in their communities for their whole lives are often forced to move to unfamiliar locations to find better healthcare as they age, so the extra supports for virtual health services as well as the Royal Flying Doctor Service will allow them more choice.”

Linda Baraciolli, Aged Care Today Editor and Communications Advisor, ACCPA

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Aged care interface presents significant benefits

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