Elderly forced to wait as aged care crisis worsens
By Adele Horin
June 1, 2004
More than 20,000 elderly people are on waiting lists for nursing homes and aged care hostels in NSW and the ACT, a survey shows. They are waiting longer for a vacancy than they did in 2001.
The survey of 208 residential care services was conducted in December 2003 by the Aged and Community Services Association of NSW and ACT, the peak body for non-profit providers.
It shows people wait on average 24 weeks for a vacancy in a nursing home and 36 weeks for a hostel, at least four weeks longer than they did when the last survey was carried out.
Paul Sadler, the association's executive officer, said people should wait no longer than a month for the service they needed. "It's clear from our survey it's taking much longer on average than that," he said.
About 8800 people were waiting for a nursing home place, and 11,800 were waiting for a place in a hostel. An estimated 1700 people were on waiting lists for a community aged care package which provides hostel-level care at home. It would take them 18 weeks on average to get the help.
In some cases, people could wait for two years or longer for entry to facilities that specialised in dementia.
Mr Sadler called on the Federal Government to reconsider the formula for its allocation of aged-care beds. He said the number of beds allocated to particular regions was based on the number of residents aged over 70. But it might need to be based on the number of people aged over 80.
"The highest demand is from people over 80 but our current planning ratios might not be picking up these areas."
Areas with long waiting lists for nursing home care included western Sydney and the Hunter; for hostel care, the waiting lists were longest in coastal retirement areas such as the Central Coast, far North Coast, Illawarra and the Hunter. Waiting lists were generally shorter in Sydney.
Mr Sadler said the Federal Government had increased the allocation of aged care places over the past two years but this had not yet translated into beds on the ground. This was due mainly to delays at local government level, and lags in building; and some nursing homes had temporarily closed for refurbishment in order to meet the mandatory new 2008 building standards.
"Once these places are operating, we would hope the waiting times will lessen," he said.
The pressure on aged care facilities also was due to hospitals discharging elderly people "quicker and sicker". It meant that instead of being able to go home, elderly people were likely to have to go into residential aged care permanently.
But the state and federal governments had recently started to tackle this issue, he said.