Room for improvement in aged care allied health, new research reveals

  14 June 2024  NWMPHN   

Inadequate funding and workforce structures mean allied health service delivery to people in residential aged care falls below international standards, new research has found.

The research was done by Isabelle Meulenbroeks, a PhD candidate from Macquarie University, who works at the Deeble Institute for Health Policy Research, which is part of the Australian Healthcare and Hospitals Association.

Ms Meulenbroeks is the 2024 Jeff Cheverton Memorial Scholar, a position jointly funded by North Western Melbourne and Brisbane North primary health networks.

2024 Jeff Cheverton Memorial Scholar, Isabelle Meulenbroeks

Her work was published in June 2024 as an issues brief.

Called Restorative and wellbeing care in Australian residential aged care facilities, the brief looked at the delivery of allied health services within residential aged care facilities around Australia and found its impact was blunted by several factors.

“The delivery of restorative and wellbeing care is important for improving independence and self-assurance in older Australians,” said Ms Meulenbroeks.

“However, the routine delivery of these services is limited. The minimum care standards, workforce structure, funding, and data collection for allied health services are all significant barriers.”

Her research found that high staff turnover and inadequate contracting models hampered the ability of allied health services to properly deliver care to aged care residents.

In addition, service providers are further disadvantaged by being unable to claim subsidies through Medicare or the Australian National Aged Care Classification for allied health activities that improve the physical and mental capacities of residents.

“Australia does not meet international quantity standards for providing restorative and wellbeing care in residential aged care,” Ms Meulenbroeks said.

“This results in higher rates of falls, poorer function and a decreased quality of life.”

She added that problems with the way data is collected means consumers can’t assess the levels of wellbeing care delivered at any given facility, limiting people’s ability to decide on the best options for older members of their family.

Ms Meulenbroeks’s co-author, Adjunct Associate Professor Rebecca Haddock, said it was essential that partnerships between residential aged care operators and allied health providers be better funded, trialled and evaluated.

“The resources for restorative and wellbeing care in the sector need to be increased so that they align with those provided to other Australian populations,” she said.

North Western Melbourne Primary Health Network chief executive officer, Christopher Carter, welcomed the policy brief and said the work of Ms Meulenbroeks and Professor Haddock demonstrated the benefits of funding independent research.

“This work identifies some of the service gaps in aged care that we have been working hard to rectify,” he said.

“Working closely with sector, we have co-designed and funded some very successful programs linking allied health providers with residential aged care. We look forward to doing more of this, underpinned by this new research.

“The late Jeff Cheverton, after whom this scholarship is named, was a loved and valued contributor to the work of primary health networks.

“It is gratifying to see that his name and reputation live on in the rigorous work of the researchers funded through the scholarship.”

Restorative and wellbeing care in Australian residential aged care facilities is available here.