The issue of lack of access for the elderly to high quality aged care was neglected up until the royal commission began when compared to coverage of health issues for Indigenous peoples and asylum seekers, according to the federal secretary of the Australian Nursing and Midwifery Federation.
"The federation would argue that we understand some of the current debate about the lack of access to healthcare for asylum seekers, the enormous gaps in health for our Indigenous people, all critically shameful situations. But we're denying our own elderly people access to proper healthcare," said Annie Butler to a panel discussion at The Australian Financial Review Healthcare Summit.
Ms Butler said "right until quite recently, nobody is making a fuss about it".
The treatment provided in aged care facilities has entered the spotlight since the beginning of an ongoing royal commission into the industry that continued in Adelaide on Tuesday, running concurrently with the summit. So far, the royal commission has heard "horror stories" of unsafe workloads and the overuse of psychotropic drugs as a substitute for care.
Ms Butler said one industry change needed was to alter the Aged Care Act to implement a minimum staffing requirement in aged care facilities.
"First and fundamentally we want to see it changed to mandate minimum staffing across the aged care sector."
In her view, to implement the full amount of staff required today, at least 65,000 jobs would need to be filled across the industry. She estimated this process would take five years for a skills shortage to catch up.
Presbyterian Aged Care NSW and ACT chief executive Paul Sadler said no aged care provider in the country would be able to afford this change if it were implemented today.
"You're talking about roughly a 40 per cent increase in the availability of money to pay for that," said Mr Sadler. "No aged care provider in Australia, even the richest, could afford that.
"The reality at the moment is that approximately half of all residential aged care services are actually operating in deficit," said Mr Sadler. The nature of the funding model in aged care services was "fundamentally flawed".
Majority in home care
According to Mr Sadler, approximately 1.3 million Australians receive aged care services, with 200,000 of those in residential facilities and the other 1.1 million receiving care in their own homes.
Any changes to aged care should focus on a whole of industry approach, not only on residential aged care providers, because the majority of those in aged care were not in those facilities.
Council on the Ageing CEO Ian Yates said there had been a "seismic shift" away from residential healthcare in favour of residential home care packages.
"We have historically speaking, warehoused older people into aged care, and what we're seeing right now is a really strong resistance to that amongst older Australians," said Mr Yates.
It was important that aged care was "not being seen as having to pick up all of the failings of the rest of the human services system".
He said "ageism" was particularly prominent in the healthcare industry.
Annie Butler, Federal Secretary of the Australian Nursing and Midwifery Federation, told The Australian Financial Review Healthcare Summit that elderly Australians were being denied access to proper aged care. Photo: Janie Barrett