Reporter: Michael Edwards
ELEANOR HALL: The report depicting widespread mistreatment of elderly patients in public hospitals has shocked many in the community, but sparked a blame game between politicians.
The report looked at nursing homes across the country and found that many residents return from hospital malnourished and in some cases with life-threatening infections.
Doctors and nurses are blaming a lack of training and staff for the problem, but the Federal and State Governments are blaming each other, as Michael Edwards reports.
MICHAEL EDWARDS: The Aged Care Association's report surveyed 370 nursing homes and found a majority of them have residents who've come back from hospital in worse condition than when they left.
These include cases of elderly patients returning with ulcers, chronically malnourished or with other serious illnesses.
There were also many cases of older people being put in taxis by hospital staff late at night and sent back to their nursing home when there was no one there to care for them.
They're stories that come as no surprise to the Australian Medical Association's aged care specialist, Dr Peter Ford.
PETER FORD: I am a general practitioner and I deal with the residential aged care sector, so it's not uncommon to come across this problem.
MICHAEL EDWARDS: Dr Ford says older patients require specialist care, and many hospitals just do not have the resources to cope.
PETER FORD: Older people have special needs in regard to skincare and other issues such as feeding so that, you know, this is a special need that is well addressed in the residential aged care, but perhaps there's not enough awareness about it in the acute sector.
MICHAEL EDWARDS: However, he says it's not only an issue for the hospitals. Dr Ford says nursing homes also need to be better equipped.
PETER FORD: There are unnecessary admissions and transfers from the residential aged care to the acute hospital sector. I think if we had better resources in residential aged care, if we did more to attract doctors and nurses - I'm talking about registered nurses - to the acute sector, then I think we could deal with many of these problems without transferring people inappropriately.
MICHAEL EDWARDS: The report pointed to systemic problems in the system. It found a culture of blame shifting and fundamental flaws in the management of elderly patients in hospitals. The report was also some critical of some staff in hospitals.
Jill Iliffe from the Australian Nursing Federation is aware of the problems.
JILL ILIFFE: I don't think it is deliberate abuse. I think it is a lack of staff and a lack of adequately trained staff. And we need gerontic nurses and geriatricians and specialised units to make sure that older people are cared for properly.
MICHAEL EDWARDS: Prue Power is from the Australian Healthcare and Hospitals Association, which represents the public system. She says it's not fair to blame hospitals for the problem.
PRUE POWER: Many aged people who need care have multiple conditions. And so they need care for these conditions which are chronic. And people who have chronic conditions, really need to be looked after in settings other than hospitals. So, the criticism of care itself is not fair.
MICHAEL EDWARDS: The Aged Care Association says there needs to be greater co-ordination between state, federal and local bodies to tackle the problem.
Jill Iliffe from the ANF sees integration as key.
JILL ILIFFE: What we want to see is to look at our healthcare and aged care system as an integrated whole, and our community health system for that matter, they all need to be integrated.
MICHAEL EDWARDS: The Aged Care Association, the ANF and the AMA say they'd all like to see aged care be a bigger election issue.
The Federal Health Minister Tony Abbott has blamed the problem on state-based hospital systems, systems which the Federal Government has a plan to fix, with its policy for a new community-based management boards to run hospitals.
But the Victorian Health Minister Daniel Andrews says it's a lack of federal funding for aged care facilities that is placing extra strain on its hospitals. The federal Labor health spokeswoman, Nicola Roxon, agrees that the problems are a result of the Coalition stripping money from the aged care sector.
But the report's author, Professor Tracey McDonald, says the blame game should cease and the problems should just be fixed.
TRACEY MCDONALD: It's just unacceptable that all of this risk be shifted onto the most fragile, vulnerable, valuable, precious group of people in our society. It's just not reasonable.
ELEANOR HALL: That's Professor Tracey McDonald ending that report from Michael Edwards.
A call for an integrated approach to solving our aged care problems is one that should be supported. A few weeks left before elections, very little is said by either major parties regarding fixing this problem. "Hello there, anyone listening?"