Senate debates

Tuesday, 3 March 2015


Severe Behaviour Response Teams

7:25 pm

Photo of Helen PolleyHelen Polley (Tasmania, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Parliamentary Secretary for Aged Care) Share this | | Hansard source

Tonight I want to address concerns about the Severe Behaviour Response Teams announced by Assistant Minister Fifield and his failure to provide a satisfactory response to my line of questioning at last week's Senate estimates hearings. The Severe Behaviour Response Teams, also referred to as 'flying squads', have been put to the Australian people by the Abbott government as a replacement for the dementia and severe behaviour supplement. Yet, since the policy was announced officially by Minister Fifield last month, we still do not have any real details.

Most people who have dementia require constant medical treatment, so how will these flying squads support providers or deal with individual residents' behaviours? I understand the flying squad service will be extended to remote, rural and regional communities, but how will this happen? What is the operation? What is the process? How will these teams reach outback areas? Will there only be services in regional centres? I understand too that the flying squads will be available 24 hours a day, seven days a week. But how will they operate? What constraints will there be around the budget? How will the budget be allocated? Will it be done state by state? Will there be a limit on the number of call-outs for this flying squad? These sorts of questions still have not been answered.

We need to know how they will interact with already established support agencies and mechanisms like the Dementia Behaviour Management Advisory Service. We already know that the minister failed when he came to office to oversee the dementia and severe behaviour supplement; that is why the cost of the supplement blew out. With that in mind, how do we know that the same will not happen again if the demand for the flying squads is so high that funding runs out? What are the KPIs, and what provisions have been put in place to address the process and outcomes?

We have no answer from the minister on these questions, and I know from the consultation I have had with this sector that they are still in the dark just as we are here in this chamber. When asked if a policy like this had ever been trialled anywhere else around the world, the minister could not provide any reassurance that any trials had been undertaken. I understand the architects are all professional and highly skilled in the area of aged care and dementia, but it has not been tested as far as we know. These are all fundamental questions that the minister needs to answer. If the minister cannot answer these basic questions, how can we be confident that this policy will be successful and will provide the support that the sector and those living with dementia and severe behaviours need and deserve?

Although Minister Fifield claimed in his announcement speech that the policy would be ready to be implemented by the end of the year, we still are waiting on the date when the policy will be implemented. In the answers to the questions we posed through estimates, the minister said that there will be further consultation with the sector. I think it is a good thing to continually consult with the sector, but let's face it: it was 26 June 2014 when the severe behaviour supplement was cut, without any warning whatsoever to the sector, and now, eight months later, what we have is an idea that came out of a meeting with the sector. It was not their first option; it was one of the options that were put forward at that forum. But what we have now is a government that still does not give the priority to aged care that those in our community expect and deserve.

We want to hear more from the minister. I do appreciate the fact that he offered to give me—and the shadow minister, Shayne Neumann—a briefing, but it is not just about briefing us. It is about us being able to reassure, along with the government, that the sector will have the support it needs to ensure the best possible care for people suffering with dementia and living with dementia and for those who have severe behavioural problems.

Thus far, this is a very light-on-detail policy. It is a policy that the sector has little knowledge of on how it will operate. We do not know what assistance we have for the training of staff who care for these most vulnerable people in our community. These people deserve so much better. I would encourage the minister to outline to us what the scope of the flying squad is and what their operations are going to be, so we can give some assurance to those living with dementia.