The Department of Health has not met its July deadline for the release of data on the new national queue for home care, a key transparency measure of the government’s home care reforms.
However, it is understood from industry sources the department will release information on the size of the national queue before the end of August.
Under the government’s legislative changes to home care packages, a centralised wait list of people approved for a package was established on 27 February. However, the department has repeatedly said it had to be confident the data was “stable” before making the information publicly available.
The department told a Senate estimates hearing on 30 May the first release of national queue data would be published “by the end of July”, but this public reporting has been delayed.
The Department of Health has committed to releasing information on the size of the national queue and individual expected wait times via My Aged Care. It will also publicly report on maximum expected wait times by package level to provide transparency to consumers about to join the bottom of the queue.
This is the first time accurate data on waiting times and the level of unmet demand for home care packages will be available to the government and aged care sector.
Last week Labor called on the Turnbull Government to immediately publish information on expected package wait times and raised concerns over the increasing demand for high-level home care.
Shadow assistant minister for ageing Helen Polley told parliament her office received calls every week from “distressed and frustrated” families who were unable to access their assessed package and were “in the dark” over their place in the national queue.
Significant waiting times for home care packages, particularly at the high levels, have been a long-running issue in the sector, and peak bodies including the National Aged Care Alliance have lobbied both Labor and Coalition governments to end the rationed aged care system and uncap the supply of packages.
As Community Care Review has reported, home care providers and consumer peaks told the Aged Care Legislated Review of the Living Longer Living Better reforms a lack of available Level 3 and 4 packages meant consumers were topping up basic services with private funds or relying on the acute care system.
Older people assessed for a home care package can take up a lower level package as an interim option, while they continue to hold their place in the queue.
Consumer and industry peak bodies have called for the government to speed up the release of additional home care packages and convert current vacant Level 1 and 2 packages into higher level packages to better align the availability of packages with assessed need.
Labor introduced the four levels of home care and committed to growing the number of packages to 100,000 by 2017-2018 as part of the LLLB reforms.
Senator Polley told parliament that older people were at risk of prematurely entering residential aged care and seeing their health deteriorate while they waited to access the care they had been assessed for.
She detailed the circumstances of a number of individuals, including an older person who has been waiting more than 432 days for a Level 4 package.
Another man with high care needs and limited family support was unable to be discharged from hospital without the appropriate home care services in place and may be placed into residential care, she said.
“There are real people in the community being admitted to hospital and residential care prematurely and, in more harrowing cases, passing away while they wait to hear about the status of their home care packages,” Senator Polley said in her speech to parliament.
According to this year’s Productivity Commission Report on Government Services, 57 per cent of new home care clients in 2015-2016 accessed care within three months of being approved by an ACAT, which is down on previous years. Some 23 per cent of new consumers did not enter care within 9 months of a home care approval.