DHS says more bosses will ease its woes

November 28, 2014

The giant Department of Human Services has responded to an administrative debacle that left 10,000 elderly Australians locked out of aged care – by appointing more bosses.


While Human Services sheds thousands of frontline Centrelink and Medicare workers, Secretary Kathryn Campbell has told her 30,000 public servants that "that additional senior level management would be beneficial".


Senior DHS bureaucrats will be appointed to head-up "divisions" in the complex new structure that will replace the Social Services group, and at least one highly paid public servant will be drafted in from another department to swell the numbers of mandarins at DHS HQ.


At least 10,000 elderly Australians were left in limbo, some of them in hospital beds, because Centrelink computers were not ready process the new means-testing system for aged care on its July 1 launch date.


The department said on Friday that the backlog had been cleared by early October after teams of extra public servants were drafted in and a triage system established to ensure the most desperate cases were processed first.


Ms Campbell's political boss, Minister for Human Services Marise Payne, refused on Friday to answer questions about what she had done to help the elderly Australians caught up in the crisis.


Fairfax understands the office of Prime Minister Tony Abbott made its displeasure clear to Senator Payne in the wake of the debacle but the minister's officer refused to answer questions about what passed between the two offices.


But Labor's Human Services spokesman Doug Cameron was scathing of the department's latest moves.

"The Abbott government is in chaos and a whole battalion of senior executive service won't get them out of it," Senator Cameron said. 


Ms Campbell told her workers that the decision to hire and appoint extra executives was made after a review of the workload of the Social Service group, which runs the government's Aged Care, Paid Parental Leave, and Participation programs.


"I have recently reviewed the workload within the Social Services Group," the departmental secretary wrote in a memo that did not mention the aged care fiasco.


"Given the importance of these projects, I have decided that additional senior level management would be beneficial."


On Friday the department refused to say how many overpayments or underpayments were made to aged care providers, how many old people were affected or whether any of them any died while waiting for their applications to be assessed.


The department also refused to divulge how many senior executives were assigned to solving the crisis or what was original the budget for implementation of the new system or the final cost.

Instead the department issued a statement though one of its spokesmen.


"We sincerely apologise to customers who were affected by this issue and thank them for their patience," he said.


"Since the issue was first identified, the department established a dedicated team to process the means test assessments as a matter of urgency and to take calls from care recipients and their nominees.

"The issues that led to the delays have been resolved.


"Since early October incoming assessments have been processed within normal timeframes.


"The department is continuing to prioritise urgent cases."

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