Meals on Wheels SA says it is concerned the expanded My Aged Care system and assessment process is delaying consumers’ access to necessary home support services.
Julie Bonnici, acting chief executive officer of the organisation, said some clients in South Australia were waiting up to two months for their referral for a meals service to be processed by My Aged Care and a Regional Assessment Service (RAS) for access to the Commonwealth Home Support Program.
This was of particular concern for older people who were being discharged from hospital and would need urgent support services such as delivered meals to be in place, she said.
Ms Bonnici urged the federal government to review the timeliness of older people accessing the services they need under the new system of referral and assessment.
“With under-nutrition and the risk of malnutrition being such a huge issue among older Australians living at home, we don’t think that people can afford to wait even a week to access meals services. Anything more than a couple of days is just too long,” she told Community Care Review.
Meals services in most cases were required as a short-term, single-service intervention and needed to be put in place quickly, she said.
While My Aged Care contact centre staff could initiate a direct to service referral, this was not always being carried out for urgent cases.
The organisation urged the government to recognise the improved outcomes and efficiency of direct to service referrals where services were needed urgently and the importance of meals as a time-limited support and health intervention.
“We see meals services are as much about providing a preventative health measure by preventing undernutrition as it is an aged care service.”
Ms Bonnici said in most cases a direct service referral could be pursued concurrently with a referral to My Aged Care and the RAS.
The accuracy of service finder information on My Aged Care and inappropriate matching of referrals to services continued to be problems facing the new system, she said.
Ms Bonnici said there was also a misconception that meals services were passive and created dependency. However, one-third of Meals on Wheels clients started and finished a service within three months, as clients were supported to reduce level of service as their health improves. “It’s not accurate to say that people who start Meals on Wheels never leave or get better.”
Correction: An earlier version of this article stated that hospitals in South Australia are required to refer all their patients to My Aged Care for all urgent and non-urgent services, as stipulated in the current advice of both the Department of Social Services and SA Health. This policy was in place from I July 2015 but has since been changed to permit hospitals in SA to refer directly to service providers.
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