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Monday, 26 February 2018
Page: 1940


Ms TEMPLEMAN (Macquarie) (12:12): People don't contact their federal member of parliament very often to say that everything is great. They call us when they feel there is nowhere else to go because a system of some sort is failing them. And that is what we are seeing at the moment with families and spouses struggling with home care packages and it is why I am very pleased to speak in support of this motion. At my recent mobile office in Hazelbrook in the Blue Mountains, Noeleen O'Beirne and her daughter Siobhan came to see me. Noeleen's husband, Patrick, died last year at the age of 90. Patrick, who had a love of politics and a wicked sense of humour, had been assessed more than 12 months earlier as needing in-home care. He was frail. Noeleen's own health wasn't up to the up to the heavy work involved in assisting him and, of course, while the rest of the family did what they could, support was sorely needed. Patrick was assessed as needing level 4 care, the top level of care.

Let's be clear what that assessment would have shown. Level 4 home care packages are intended to support people who have high-level care needs. He may have been eligible to receive assistance with showering, dressing, home cleaning, help to use aids and appliances, some social support, meal preparation, medication management, nursing care, allied health support like physio, help with shopping, transport to get to appointments, and support with any changes to memory or behaviour. That was the package that he was judged to be eligible for. He also would have had such high-care needs that he most certainly would have been eligible to enter residential aged care, but both Patrick and Noeleen, like so many elderly people, preferred to remain living in the home that they had called their own for so many years. Sadly, the help did not come in time. Their approved package only started to be delivered shortly before Patrick died. And what it did was reduce the quality of his and Noeleen's last months together. It increased the anxiety and the distress—and that is a disgrace. Noeleen tells me that in some ways, though, she feels lucky, because a friend of hers received his package six weeks after his death.

Similar calls, about long delays and packages not delivered, received by my office and also backed by the data that we're seeing show that Patrick and Noeleen are not alone. The latest numbers show that, in the three months to September, the waiting list grew by more than 10,000. We still don't have the December figures to know how much it grew in that period, but, with 100,000 older Australians, many of them frail, waiting for this government to provide the care they need, the wait is simply too long. Seventy-eight thousand people on that list are waiting for high-care packages so they can avoid moving into aged care, which carries an even bigger cost burden to the taxpayer and brings with it such an emotional and financial burden to their spouses and their families.

Of course, not all the people waiting for home care packages are very elderly. Some have early onset dementia, and the ability of their partner to keep on working, to keep some control of one part of their life, depends on there being an adequate level of in-home care. Many people are forced to accept packages at a lower level than they're eligible for, just to get something. In fact, the minister encourages this. He said:

I would encourage people on waiting lists that whatever level you are offered initially, take that offer.

He cites budgetary pressures and an underestimation of demand as the problem. I don't underestimate his empathy for those impacted and I do acknowledge the 6,000 additional packages that came online, but it really is time he stood up to those in his government who hold the purse strings, because the only answer is a lot more packages. It's not good enough to tell people to make do. People who are assessed to be eligible for level 3 home care packages are more than likely eligible to enter residential care. Those on level 2 may also be eligible. Only level 1 packages are really designed to help people who would benefit from having a minor level of support—and they simply don't meet the needs of the 78,000 people on that waiting list.

There is urgency to this situation, just as there should be urgency when someone is assessed as being eligible for in-home support. They don't have all the time in the world, and we have a responsibility to ensure that people whose lives have often shrunk to revolve around their home get the care they need—because, right now, they're dying before the care they deserve even arrives.