At a Council of Australian Governments (COAG) meeting of health ministers on Friday, Mr Hunt told his state and territory colleagues his government would be “revisiting” the tender and it was “unlikely to proceed”.
The plan to outsource the service was derided by the NSW, Victorian and Queensland health ministers, geriatricians, aged care experts and even a government MP. Liberal backbencher Russell Broadbent told Parliament on Monday there was no justification for the privatisation plan.
“I’ve been in situations where areas have been contracted out in my past life and there is a great loss of experience,” Mr Broadbent said.
Labor, which had been critical of the change, has welcomed the news.
“Minister Hunt should give a clear assurance that this important work will continue to be done by experienced and well-qualified assessors in conjunction with states and territories,” Labor’s aged care spokeswoman, Julie Collins, said.
Concerns were raised about potential conflicts of interest if a company that operated nursing homes was also running assessment teams, as well as delays for patients if the service was not based in the local hospital.
Aged Care Minister Richard Colbeck had defended the plan, claiming it was an urgent reform recommended by both the Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety and the 2017 Legislative Review of Aged Care.
Both reports recommended merging the regional assessment service (RAS) and ACAT into one assessment body but did not propose outsourcing the teams to a private company. The chair of the royal commission, Gaetano Pagone, last month confirmed his interim report “did not endorse the government’s stated position” on privatising ACAT.
The current arrangement – where the states employ the teams and the federal government funds them – has been in place for three decades.
Senator Colbeck has been contacted for comment.