Australia should urgently prioritise home care over residential aged care for elderly people, a royal commission has been told.
The coronavirus pandemic will likely reinforce people's preference to be cared for at home, senior counsel assisting the inquiry, Peter Gray, said on Monday.
He noted it is cheaper for the federal government to provide home care packages at $71 a day on average compared to $191 for residential care.
During opening submissions, Mr Gray also criticised the aged sector regulator for an apparent drop in assessments of home care service providers since the middle of last year.
He said Australia had a "very high" percentage of aged care recipients in residential facilities compared to other developed countries.
"There should be a far more urgent effort to prioritise home care over residential care," Mr Gray said.
"This is not to disparage residential care. There will always be a place for high quality residential care.
"But, as the research indicates, it is not generally the setting a person would choose."
Nearly 19 per cent of people aged 80 or over in Australia are in residential facilities, the highest proportion of any OECD nation.
Mr Gray pointed to several studies which indicated people would prefer to be cared for in their home and stay as independent as possible.
"Home care should act as a stitch in time, preventing or at least delaying more weighty problems and more costly forms of care," he said.
However, at the end of last financial year there were more than 100,000 people waiting for home care packages to be delivered, he added.
A few hours after the three-day hearing began, the federal government announced an extra $71.4 million to help families of aged care residents care for loved ones at home.
The commission heard reviews and audits of home care service providers by the Aged Care Quality and Safety Commission had steeply fallen since July 2019.
"The new quality standards were introduced at that time," Mr Gray said.
"It might have been expected that a regulator would seek to increase activity to encourage adherence."
The Aged Care Quality and Safeguard Commission said fewer compliance checks were undertaken because of high staff turnover and a greater number of audits on troubled aged care facilities.
The aged care royal commission is examining the home care system and will hear from providers, aged care recipients and their families, as well as government officials.
Australian Associated Press