He called for more frequent reviews of aged care residents’ medications, saying the current two-year cap on Medicare-funded reviews was “way too long”.
Aged and Community Services Australia chief executive Pat Sparrow agreed medication reviews should be conducted more frequently, but said most aged care operators were not in a position to pay for additional reviews out of their own pocket, with half trading at a loss.
The aged care royal commission’s interim report called the use of so-called chemical restraint “inhumane, abusive and unjustified”, in November, and Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced $25 million in funding to improve medication management programs to reduce its use in response.
The funding has been earmarked for a program to improve medication management both in residential aged care facilities and for elderly patients still living at home.
Changes being sought by the aged care sector, pharmacists and older Australians would cost the federal budget at least $49 million over four years, calculated based on medication reviews being covered by Medicare once a year for the nation’s 220,000 aged care residents.
An academic review of aged care research commissioned by the Pharmaceutical Society of Australia, to be published on Wednesday, found that between 40 per cent and 50 per cent of people living in aged care were on medicines that can cause sedation or confusion.
About 25,000 aged care residents have been given at least one potentially hazardous medicine combination, the report by Professor Libby Roughead from the University of South Australia’s Quality Use of Medicines and Pharmacy Research Centre found.
It said half of residents with dementia were taking medicines that could make their condition worse, and 20 per cent of unplanned hospital admissions for aged care residents were a result of inappropriate medicine use.
Up to one-third of people living in aged care are taking benzodiazepines, with more than half using the highly addictive medicine for too long, the report said. Official guidelines say in most cases the drug should not be used for more than four weeks.
The pharmaceutical society’s president Chris Freeman said pharmacists conducting two-yearly medication reviews under the current system found that almost every aged care resident had “at least one problem with their medicines – and most have three problems.”
Mr Henschke said fixing medication problems would leave older people better while also saving money.
“If somebody falls over because they’re taking too much benzodiazepine, breaks their hip and has to go to hospital, you may find many thousands of dollars spent unnecessarily on their healthcare,” he said.
Health minister Greg Hunt had said he welcomed the pharmaceutical society’s report, which he had been briefed on, saying it offered “important steps forward”.
“The government will consider the report carefully,” he said.
Dana is health and industrial relations reporter for The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age.