Letters to the Editor: Growing old

The joys of growing old; the golden years where life is easy and the fruits of your labour are to be enjoyed.

That is, of course, unless you are one of the 410,000 Australians diagnosed with dementia.

This insidious disease that is becoming more prevalent with our aging population, now affects 1 in 3 people over the age of 85.

How do we care for these people who are not able to care for themselves?

The options are very limited.  They are either placed in an aged care home or a family member or friend looks after them in the community.

Presently 196,490 determined Australian informal carers are sacrificing their lives to look after their loved ones at home.  This is an extremely hard gig.  There are no weekends here, it is 24/7 commitment that tests the carer in many ways; physically, mentally and financially.

It would stand to reason that these informal carers would have full support from the Federal Government.  In fact, nothing could be further from the truth.

Let me explain.

As a carer for my 86 year old mother who is living with dementia, I recently sought to have a break from my caring duties.  These breaks are known as respite and are an opportunity for the carer, to have a well earned breather from this extremely difficult role.

As her carer, I have been allocated 63 days of subsidised residential respite care each financial year and, if needed a further 21 days.

However, the reality is much different as these figures are an apparition.  In a vast majority of places these beds do not exist.

In Tamworth we have just one high care respite bed, yes you read it correctly just one.

The government who spruik on a regular basis that they are “caring for the carer” have a massive hole in their aged care policy.

There are simply not enough respite places available.  The industry has been structured to financially reward the private aged care operators and completely ignore the needs of the informal carers.

The government thinks so little of our country’s informal carers, that the best they can do from the annual aged care residential budget of $10.6 Billion is to provide 4992 (June 30th 2015) respite beds to cater for all 196,490 of us.

Yes, less than 2.6% of the 192,370 subsidised beds in aged care facilities are dedicated to respite - giving 1.9 million days of respite.

When dividing these 1.9 million days by the 196.490 carers, this allows each carer just 10 days off each year.

In reality they should be providing 12 million days of residential respite which equates to 30,000 respite beds.

The chances of this figure changing is extremely unlikely, as the government daily subsidy  on a respite bed is 68%  ($127.46) less than a high care residential bed ($214.06).

With commercial operators presently at 92% capacity they have no incentive to offer respite and why would they when they would be out of pocket $86.60 per day.

Perversely the government has locked out informal carers from having a break.

Following are some salient statistics that bring into clear focus the charade that is aged care policy in Australia.

Informal carers in a report from Access Economics 2008 are estimated to save the Federal Budget through their caring efforts $5.5 Billion per annum.

In contrast The Aged Care Providers in 2014-2015 Net Profit Residential Aged care increased 27% from 2013-2014 to $907 Million.

This was achieved by Net Profit before Tax per resident per annum (2014-2015)-$5221 (up from $4150 2013-2014) increase of 25.8%.

As we have seen in media reports (far too many to mention) the profit focus of the aged care providers is at the expense of providing qualified staff to care for residents. This has led to neglect, willful disregard for the people in their care and in extreme cases preventable deaths.

It's time that welfare of our most vulnerable citizens was placed above the never ending drive for profit.

Rather than to continue to subsidise corporate profits, the government needs to put informal carers and their care recipients first.

Scott Hyams

Tamworth