Delays in ACAT assessments are leaving elderly Sunshine Coast people in limbo.
Delays in ACAT assessments are leaving elderly Sunshine Coast people in limbo. Matt Rourke

Our elderly forced to wait months for vital services

ELDERLY Sunshine Coast people are being forced to wait months to receive vital care services as a new provider system struggles to cope with demand.

Entry to aged care homes, after-hospital care, in-home help and respite care are all being affected by shortfalls in the new My Aged Care program.

In some cases, particularly respite care, the delays are so long that the service is no longer needed by the time it is approved.

My Aged Care is the main entry point to the aged care system in Australia and is promoted on its website as "aiming to make it easier for older people, their families and carers to access information on ageing and aged care, have their needs assessed and be supported to find and access services".

The reality is very different, according to Nambour GP Wayne Herdy who describes the set-up as "a dog's breakfast".

The vice-president of Sunshine Coast Local Medical Association said he was concerned by the complexity of the new paperwork and delays in accessing services.

"We used to have a relatively small form - about 16 pages - and the last three or four pages the ACAT assessor had to write a summary of the patient," Dr Herdy said.

"It was extremely useful but now we have a form that is 40 pages and is only a tick-and-flick. From a clinical point of view it is almost useless."

Before the system was changed, it had been possible to have a person's needs assessed in a couple of weeks, he said.

"If they were in hospital, it might only take a couple of days.

"The routine time was up to six weeks whereas now the wait is several months. That means it is taking a long time to get people services in their home.

"If someone needs urgent respite care, by the time we get the assessment and a place is available, the situation has often passed and respite care might not be needed any more."

None of that is news to Mooloolaba woman Julie Penlington, who has struggled to get services for her mother and other elderly people who come into the pharmacy where she works.

Applied for an ACAT assessment on December 30 but had to wait about 12 weeks before that happened.

About a month ago she was finally told her mother had been approved for a package but they are still waiting to receive a letter which will contain a code which will enable them to go online and fine a suitable package.

"So it's June and we are still waiting, after applying at the end of last year," she said.

She said she knew other people who had been waiting just as long for an aged care assessment or a package.

"They'll be dead before they get anywhere," she said.

"I am seeing people who are needing care and when I ring the provider, they say they have high care people waiting four months.

"So, as far as the government is concerned, high care must mean eight, 12 or 14 weeks.

"A couple of elderly people he said to me 'they must want us to die first'."

Mrs Penlington said she had lodged a complaint with the Department of Health and also approached Federal Member for Fisher, Andrew Wallace, who had been very helpful.

Mr Wallace told the Daily he had acted on Mrs Penlington's complaint immediately, sending a request for information to his colleagues in the Federal Government.

He had received a letter from the Minister for Aged Care, Greg Hunt, but did not consider the response "addressed all of the issues in full".

"So I have gone back to him and asked for a more comprehensive response," he said.

"I believe that Julie and her mother had to wait too long for their assessment. I know that this must have been a frustrating and stressful time.

"The last thing that a family who are caring for a vulnerable relative need is to have to chase officials for access to the services that could help.

"The ACAT assessment services are provided by the State Government through agreements with the Federal Government. The Federal Government does not directly control ACAT assessment services or waiting times.

"The Federal Government understands that there is rising demand for home care packages. We know that something needs to be done to expedite them.

"To that end, the Turnbull Government took action on 27th February of this year, launching the Increased Choice in Home Care reforms.

"Under these reforms, each individual will be approved by the Federal Government directly for a package of support and will then be able to choose and approach a provider of home care for themselves.

"As well as delivering more choice for people, this reform means that the Federal Government will now be able to monitor and prioritise demand for home care packages at a national level to ensure that people who need them most get help as quickly as possible.

"We are currently in the transition period of these changes and they have not yet had time to make a real impact. However, once these changes are established the Federal Government intends to make approximate waiting times public to allow proper scrutiny and show their progress.

"I am optimistic that these changes will make a difference for families like Julie's in the future."

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