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Optometry training, low vision aids highlighted in Royal Commission’s aged care report

The Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety has recommended providers have arrangements with optometrists to ensure appropriate care to residents and has proposed a review of the undergraduate curricula for many allied health professions, including optometry.

Royal Commissioners Mr Tony Pagone, QC, and Ms Lynelle Briggs, AO, presented their final report on Monday 1 March, which also recommends making low vision aids and technologies more accessible for older Australians.

Tony Pagone.

The damning report contained 148 recommendations made over a two-year investigation. While the Government is yet to select which recommendations it will adopt, Prime Minister Scott Morrison immediately pledged $452.2 million to address issues highlighted by the commission, with the government to provide a further response in the May budget.

In her findings, Briggs noted that providers have demonstrated “little curiosity or ambition for care improvement” and have not prioritised enablement and allied health care.

She went further than Pagone in her recommendations and proposed providers employ, or retain, at least one allied health practitioner for oral health, mental health, podiatry, physiotherapy, occupational therapy, pharmacy, speech pathology, a dietitian, exercise physiologist, and a music or art therapist.

In term of optometrists and audiologists, she recommended aged-care facilities have arrangements with them “to provide services as required to people receiving care”. Pagone believed providers only needed to go this far across all allied health professions, not just for eye and ear care.

Lynelle Briggs.

The commissioners also said “a paradigm shift is required” for both undergraduate and postgraduate medical, nursing and allied health training to account for the changing profile of health and ageing.

As such, the report recommended the undergraduate curricula for health professionals should be reviewed by the relevant accreditation authorities, including optometry.

“Curricula should be developed to equip the health professionals of the future with the skills and attributes they need for their core patient groups of tomorrow,” the commissioners said. “The reviews should consider changes to the knowledge, skills and professional attributes so that the care needs of older people are met by health professionals.”

Upping accessibility to low vision aids

Meanwhile, Macular Disease Foundation Australia (MDFA) has welcomed the recommendation to increase accessibility to daily living supports.

Specifically, the commissioners found that everyone living with a disability in the aged-care system should receive daily living supports – such as assistive technologies, aids and equipment – at a level equivalent to what someone under the age of 65 years would receive in the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS).

Dee Hopkins.

Should the Commonwealth Government adopt this recommendation, the MDFA believes more than 100,000 older Australians living with low vision or blindness will have greater and more equitable access to low vision aids and technology.

“Assistive technology, aids and equipment can transform the lives of people with vision loss, helping them maintain their independence and continue doing the things they love to do. But many older Australians simply cannot afford this life-changing equipment,” MDFA CEO Ms Dee Hopkins said.

“We applaud the Royal Commission for making this crucial recommendation, and we implore Health Minister Greg Hunt and Prime Minister Scott Morrison to adopt it so older Australians with vision impairment can finally get the practical support they need to improve independence and quality of life.”

Hopkins said this key recommendation comes four years after MDFA and the George Institute for Global Health released Low Vision, quality of life and independence: A review of the evidence on aids and technologies.

The report highlighted the barriers to accessing low vision aids and technology in the aged-care system as well as state and territory programs, and called for the creation of a nationally funded program.

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