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Solving the aged care problem is much more than about beds

17 September, 2009

Solving the issues facing aged care also means supporting family carers, not counting aged care beds, the CEO of Carers Australia, Joan Hughes has said.

Solving the issues facing aged care also means supporting family carers, not counting aged care beds, the CEO of Carers Australia, Joan Hughes has said.

Her comments follow a joint communiqué by the Ministerial Conference on Ageing, chaired by Minister for Ageing, Justine Elliot.

The Commonwealth, State and Territory Ministers for the care of older Australians and the Australian Local Government Association met in Canberra at the third Ministerial Conference on Ageing.

Hughes said the health profile of Australian society changed significantly in the past 20 years and would continue changing, radically, in the next 20.

“Our population has aged significantly, disability and chronic illnesses have increased, and we are living longer with disabilities,” she said.

At the same time, three major changes had occurred. These were shorter hospital stays, an overall shift from institutional care to community care and an increased focus on ageing at home.

“Consequently, family members are increasingly providing care to other family members at home,” Hughes said.

“Aged care is about more than beds and bed numbers, it must be about supporting the family carers who are doing the lion’s share of the work without adequate assistance.”

Almost one in five people over 65 are carers, with 391,000 providing care for someone living in their household. Some 48% of these family carers are caring for a person with a profound or severe core activity limitation and thereby keeping people out of institutions such as aged care facilities.

Hughes said the rapidly ageing population of Australia, the role of carers and the number of carers available should be at the centre of the design and shape of Australia’s future aged care system.

The National Centre for Social and Economic Modelling (NATSEM) estimates there will be a 160 per cent increase in the number of people aged over 65 needing care during the next 30 years — from 539,000 people in 2001 to 1,3900,000 in 2031 (1). In 2000, the caretaker ratio was around 2.5:1 but over the next 50 years the same ratio is projected to fall below 1:1.

“This reinforces the need to adequately support families and friends who provide the bulk of the care now and into the future,” Hughes said.

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