Aged and Community Services Australia, which represents not-for-profit aged care providers, said it was concerned by the latest figures on unanswered calls.
“Access to information is critical for elderly Australians, or loved ones calling on their behalf,” chief executive Patricia Sparrow said.
“The current system is based on only a few people needing face-to-face support with the emphasis on website and phone contact, but what we’ve learnt is that lots of people need that face-to-face support.”
The figures follow a scathing assessment of My Aged Care by the aged care royal commission. Its first report noted “many people in their 80s and 90s find [the phone and internet system] frightening, confronting and confusing”.
Labor’s aged care spokesperson Julie Collins said her office and those of other MPs were regularly approached by “desperate” people who could not get through to My Aged Care.
“People shouldn’t have to come to an MP’s office to be able to navigate a government system,” she said.
Council on the Ageing chief executive Ian Yates said his organisation believed “very strongly” there should be a face-to-face capacity – such as, for example, a Centrelink-type shopfront – noting COTA has been calling for this for about 10 years.
But he also noted the unanswered call numbers were significantly better than those at Centrelink, where nearly 48 million calls went unanswered in 2017-18.
Aged Care Minister Richard Colbeck said the My Aged Care contact centre had a “strong record of answering calls quickly”.
He said the average time to answer a call was less than 30 seconds: “It is likely that a proportion of the unanswered calls were abandoned because the caller had phoned the wrong number or changed their mind”.
According to the Department of Health, the number of unanswered calls to My Aged Care was less than 3 per cent of total calls received over 2018-19. This has dropped to less than two per cent in the first half of 2019-20.
Mr Colbeck said the government was also supporting face-to-face information, pointing to the $7.4 million system navigator trial and a further $10 million program to help older people from migrant backgrounds.
“The department is also exploring opportunities for further face-to-face support, to be provided through a range community organisations,” he said.
Judith Ireland is a political reporter for the Sydney Morning Herald and The Age, based at Parliament House