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May 16, 2016

Older Canberrans waited a combined 120 years in hospital before being admitted into nursing homes, ACT Government data from the past decade has revealed.

As the ACT's older population is tipped to triple in the next 40 years, a report into the health and wellbeing of older people in the ACT revealed those waiting for a place in residential aged care facilities were stuck in Canberra hospitals for 43,989 days in the decade to 2012-2013.

Council on the Ageing ACT executive director Jenny Mobbs said undersupply and expense were an issue in Canberra's aged care sector.


The ACT's older population is tipped to triple in the next 40 years.

"Residential aged care in Canberra is a challenging situation. It comes at a cost," Ms Mobbs said.

According to the report, 1741 people were housed in residential aged care in the ACT in 2011.

By comparison, there were 1362 admissions to Canberra hospitals of people needing an aged care place.

Each admission had an average stay of 32.3 days, far longer than the average length of stay for other reasons like mood-affective disorders (18.6 days) and sepsis (10.4 days).

Heart-breakingly, older Canberrans who needed in-home care but had no other household member to rely on, accounted for 15,900 bed-days in the past decade, on average for 10.9 days each admission.

Ms Mobbs said the need to provide people with support in their own homes was clear.

"We need to keep people out in the community if we can, for as long as we can so that we're not blocking up those beds. People would choose that, they'll tell you they'd rather stay in their own home if they've got all of the support that they need and that's what the government is aiming for as well," she said.

Compared with their national counterparts, Canberrans were less likely to need assistance in their daily lives, with only 16.2 per cent of those aged over 65 citing the need for extra help day-to-day.

While more than three-quarters of older Canberrans reported themselves to be in excellent health, assistant health minister Meegan Fitzharris said helping Canberrans maintain their independence was a priority.

Improving infrastructure in suburbs with ageing populations and educating older residents and health care staff on how to prevent falls were some of the ways the ACT Government was supporting "active ageing", she said.

Their renewed focus on the health and wellbeing of older residents comes as the number of over-65s is expected to almost triple by 2053. The number of people aged over 85 years is predicted to quadruple.

Already the proportion of older people presenting to the ACT's emergency departments has increased from 14.2 per cent to 17.5 per cent in the past decade.

The age-specific hospitalisation rate for older ACT residents also rose, from 731.7 to 900.1 admissions per 1000.

Poor access to GP bulk-billing has previously been blamed for an increasing number of presentations to Canberra emergency departments, which are already struggling to care for a growing population.

While 90 per cent of older Australians as a whole were bulk-billed by their GPs in the past 12 months, only two-thirds of Canberrans aged over 65 had accessed a Medicare-funded doctor visit.

While no resident aged 65 years or older reported not being able to afford a visit to the doctor, almost all had visited a general practitioner in the past 12 months. The older the patient, the more visits they made to a GP, data showed.

But while the proportion of bulk-billed GP visits was substantially higher for older persons in the ACT than for ACT residents overall, the report showed both rates were well below the national average.

Medicare Australia data showed that in the 2013-14 financial year, older Canberrans on average visited the GP without a referral 8.9 times. The national average was 13.3.

However the ACT's high rates of private hospital care and the relative good health of the older population could be a reason why fewer people aged over 65 were bulk-billed in Canberra than in other parts of Australia, the report said.

Ms Mobbs said one of the report's most surprising findings was how older people rated their stays in hospital.

"I know the hospital gets a bad rap at times but there were some positive statements from people saying that their stay was either excellent, very good or good. For overnight stays, 94 per cent of people rated the care they received as excellent, very good or good. That's pretty good for our hospital system," she said.

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