Research shows rural aged care shortfall

La Trobe University researchers have submitted a research report to the Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety outlining some of the shortfalls of aged care markets in rural and regional areas.

As part of a study funded by the Consumer Policy Research Centre, La Trobe researchers identified a number of issues with aged care services in rural areas – including long waiting lists, inability to make complaints due to lack of other care options, and difficulty accessing relevant information.

Director of La Trobe University’s John Richards Centre for Rural Ageing Research, Professor Irene Blackberry, said older people living in rural areas were at a disadvantage when compared to their metropolitan counterparts.

“Often there is only one provider in a town or region, meaning older people can’t “shop around”, and may have to endure poor service from their provider, if there is no other option,” Professor Blackberry said.

“Compounding this a lack of clear, easily accessible information, to help people access the services they need, or make informed choices about their care.”

Professor Blackberry said the Australian Government’s My Aged Care website – designed to help people find and access government-funded aged care services – often left people confused.

“Many older people reported having to wade through copious amounts of irrelevant information to find what they needed. That’s if they had the skills to search online in the first place,” Professor Blackberry said.

“We also discovered that some rural primary healthcare workers lacked knowledge of My Aged Care and local aged care services.

“This is problematic for older people who lack digital literacy skills or are isolated from family and friends, and therefore rely on healthcare workers for trusted information,” Professor Blackberry said.

Senior Research and Policy Manager at the Consumer Policy Research Centre, Ben Martin Hobbs, said understanding issues facing rural older people is critical in future planning.

“Better understanding how people actually make choices, and the difficulties they face in navigating these complex services is essential to ensure policymakers design markets that are fair, inclusive and accessible to all consumers.”

Recommendations in the submission included:

  • Dedicate funding to appoint an independent “aged care coordinator” in rural areas – an advocate with knowledge of the local context, who can provide comprehensive localised, and relevant information.
  • Provide mandatory training and professional development for rural healthcare workers to better promote ageing well, and to support older people to access aged care services.
  • Review the My Aged Care website to ensure it is fit-for-purpose in a thin rural market.
  • Develop a targeted awareness-raising campaign highlighting the importance of timely access to community aged care services.

The research project brought together multidisciplinary advisers and consumers in partnership with 10 rural Victorian health services. Interviews were conducted with 20 older people living in rural Victoria and New South Wales.

More than 9,300 submissions to the Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety were received, before submissions closed on 31 July.

A copy of the submission can be found here.

Media Contact: Kate O’Connor – k.o’ – 0436 189 629