A study has confirmed what appears to be self-evident: older people like having expert face-to-face support to navigate aged care, which boosts their knowledge and makes it easier to access the system.

Ian Yates

The Evaluation of the  aged care system navigator measure final report looked at a set of trials run at 65 locations across Australia over the last two years, including information hubs, special support officers and financial advice.

“Navigator service users were very satisfied with the services,” the analysis by Australian Healthcare Associates released last week said.

“The vast majority of navigator service users reported that participating in trial activities improved their knowledge of the aged care system, and increased their confidence in accessing services.”

The report says navigation services should remain independent of aged care providers, but could be delivered by local governments, Primary Health Networks, advocacy groups and community organisations.

It calls for a nationally networked, branded program of navigation services underpinned by a professional workforce, which the government aims to deliver in the form of a 500-strong care finders system from the end of 2022.

The finding echoes themes raised by the Productivity Commission’s Caring for Older Australians report back in 2011 which the consumer group COTA later developed the concept of called a ‘consumer support platform’ including navigation and advocacy.

Four models of support

The federal government provided $11 million to fund trials focusing on four different models of navigation support.

The first three, delivered by COTA and 30 partner organisations, involved 32 aged care information hubs, 21 peer support-based community hubs and nine specialist support works.

A fourth trial, overseen by Services Australia, involved six financial services officers.

By the end of November last year 388,5000 people had received some form of support from the trials.

Greg Hunt

The financial services trial wrapped up at the end of last year but the three COTA trials have been extended until December 2022 when they’ll be replaced by the community care finders announced as part of this year’s federal budget.

The AHA analysis puts the overall estimated budget per service user at $61, ranging from $47 for community hubs and $153 for specialist support workers.

The report notes that the original intent of the trials was to support people who were dealing with the aged care system for the first time. However, a ‘relatively high proportion’ of service users were already getting aged care.

“This indicates that support is often required even once individuals are ‘in the system’,” it says.

It also found that overall, professional navigation models were preferred over peer models.

Gearing up for change

COTA CEO Ian Yates says the results are some much-needed good news for aged care.

“The top line take home is that the evaluators agree that the need (for a navigation system) is there,” he told Community Care Review.

“Now this isn’t a surprise but it’s helpful to show you can’t argue the need doesn’t exist.”

Mr Yates says the trial will reinforce and guide the design of the full care finders program.

Richard Colbeck

“These are all important lessons as we work with the Commonwealth and the trial is adapted and continued as we gear up for the full program.”

Health and aged care minister Greg Hunt says the report has particular relevance for isolated or vulnerable older people.

“There are positive findings around improved experience for senior Australians who may be hard to reach or part of vulnerable population groups,” he said in a statement.

Aged care services minister Richard Colbeck said the evaluation supported the finding of the royal commission that face to face interactions would improve access to and use of the aged care system.

“The report also found navigator services work best when they can be locally tailored, ensuring the appropriate level of local knowledge and flexibility to meet the needs of local seniors,” he said.

As well as the care finders, the government has also committed to establishing a new face-to-face aged care service in Services Australia centres and putting aged care specialists in 70 additional service centres.

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