Improving healthcare for Australians in aged care could save $21 billion: AMA

More than $21 billion could be saved over the next four years from a reduction in unnecessary hospitalisations and emergency department presentations if the federal government improves access to doctors and nurses across the aged care system.

Australian Medical Association President Dr Omar Khorshid said those preventable hospitalisations were just one aspect of aged care that showed substantial changes could be made with immediate reform.

Improving access to medical care would save the government billions, the AMA has said.Credit:iStock

“If you get the care right by improving the access of elderly Australians to medical and nursing care, particularly in these facilities but also in the community, then there’s actually a lot of savings,” he said.

“There’s a financial saving, and in fact, it’s a very large financial saving.”

In its formal response to the final report of the Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety report, the AMA found that without change, potentially preventable hospitalisations from people aged over 65 would cost $18.2 billion alone over the four years to 2024-2025.

On Monday, two coalitions of aged care peak provider and consumer groups said they wanted to see uncapped home care packages, a registration scheme for care workers and a focus on transparency in the federal government’s response to the royal commission.

Previously, the sector said fixing workforce issues across residential aged care and home care services was key to reforming the system.

The AMA modelling found boosting access to doctors and nurses could also save $887 million from people waiting in hospitals for a place in a residential care facility, and $497 million for people who are taken from nursing homes to emergency departments but are never admitted to hospital.

Dr Korshid said the treatment of chronic conditions including pressure sores was an example of how investment in medical care could prevent patients being moved to hospitals at a much higher cost.

“If you don’t have enough access to a general practitioner, the conditions tend to get worse, and get to the point where an acute admission [to hospital] is required,” he said.

Aged Care Services Minister Richard Colbeck has previously said the government would deliver its response to the royal commission’s recommendations to Parliament by May 31.

Senior Australians and Aged Care Services Minister Richard Colbeck .Credit:Alex Ellinghausen

“A comprehensive response to the final report will be in the upcoming budget,” he said. “The health and wellbeing of older Australians and those working to support them will be key to the widespread reform.”

The government announced $452 million in an immediate response to the royal commission’s final report. That was in addition to the $537 million in support measures following the interim report, and $172.8 million provided in response to the COVID-19 special report.

Dr Khorshid said the AMA wants to see the government invest in boosting the number of GPs and registered nurses working in aged care, to provide better, continuous care for residents and people receiving aged care services at home.

It would cost the government $643 million over four years, including $145 million in the 2021-2022 financial year to increase Medicare rebates for doctors providing primary care in an aged care setting.

Dr Khorshid said it was about recognising that aged care was a healthcare service, rather than a residential service. That would mean improving the ratio of nurses to residents and improving the access to GPs.

“We want to put health back into aged care,” he said.

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