The Morrison Government has announced it will stop its plans to tender for aged care assessment services.
Aged Care Assessment Teams (ACAT) and Regional Assessment Services (RAS) employ nurses, allied health workers and geriatricians, and assess the level of care required by elderly Australians.
This work is funded by the Federal Government and provided in Victoria by the State Government which sub contracts under the scheme.
The plan had created enormous uncertainty amongst current providers and their staff. Some Victorian providers had already advised ANMF that they would cease operating due to the onerous new requirements. These included operating across multiple regions and sometimes state boundaries.
The government’s decision to withdraw the tender was announced on 28 February via a Council of Australian Governments Health Council (CHC) communique released following a meeting of state and territory health ministers.
The CHC communique states: ‘The Commonwealth has agreed to work with the States and Territories to have a consistent, uniform, efficient and integrated aged care assessment process that meets the needs of senior Australians and their families.
‘The Commonwealth has confirmed that it is not proceeding with the current tender process.’
In the longer term the Morrison Government says it will take advice from state and territory governments and the royal commission about the ‘exact delivery mix’ of assessment services.
At the time of the announcement, ANMF’s petition in the House of Representatives calling for a review of the tender decision had more than 1500 signatures.
(Vic Branch) Assistant Secretary Paul Gilbert thanked everyone who signed the petition and campaigned to stop the privatisation of the service.
ANMF was particularly concerned about the loss of an experienced and skilled assessment workforce.
‘There are hundreds of unimplemented recommendations in 19 aged care review reports and privatising aged care assessment services is not one of them,’ Mr Gilbert said.
‘We still don’t understand what problem privatisation was trying to fix?’
ANMF continues to support the 2017 Tune Report recommendation to integrate the ACAT and RAS and streamline the services.
Privatisation plan attracted wide criticism
Federal Minister for Aged Care and Senior Australians Senator Richard Colbeck announced the government’s decision to tender the aged care assessment services on 30 December 2019.
Two weeks later, in an unusual step the Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety Chair Tony Pagone issued a ‘Statement by the Royal Commission Chair on ACAT privatisation’.
‘Public concern has been expressed about statements made by the Minister for Aged Care and Senior Australians that we had decided to support the privatisation of the Aged Care Assessment Teams in our Interim Report,’ Mr Pagone said.
‘I take this opportunity to make clear that the Interim Report did not endorse the Government’s stated position.’
The interim report did support previous recommendations from the 2017 ‘Legislative Review of Aged Care’, known as the ‘Tune Report’ to amalgamate the Regional Assessment Services with the Aged Care Assessment Teams. This was a first step in addressing lengthy assessment delays and the quality and consistency of the assessment process.
Both sides of politics including NSW Health Minister Brad Hazzard and Morrison Government MP Russel Broadbent, the Federal Labor Opposition and the Andrews Government criticised the decision to tender for aged care assessment services as ‘illogical’.
Mr Broadbent, who has personal experience of the aged care assessment process, criticised his government’s privatisation plans and pointed out the Tune Report had not recommended ‘contracting out’ the services.
‘I’ve been in situations, in things that I did in my past life, where areas have been contracted out, and there is a great loss of experience that is extended to people,” Mr Broadbent said.
Ged Kearney, Federal Shadow Assistant Aged Care Minister and former ANMF Federal Secretary, said privatisation was ‘a decision no one asked for and no one wants’.
‘The government’s obsession with privatization means they are blinded by the effect this will have on the health system,’ Ms Kearney said.
Federal Shadow Aged Care Minister Julie Collins called on the government to ‘come clean’ on the reasons behind the move to privatise services before the aged care royal commission’s final report due in November.
In his recent speech about respecting older Australians Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese said that the ‘first interaction the elderly and their families have with the aged care system’ should not be left to market forces.
‘Our aged care system is broken – and this government wants to make it worse by subjecting ACAT to the indifference of the market.’