Meals on Wheels crisis leaving older Victorians at risk

More vulnerable, elderly Victorian residents are being left without the essential nourishment, social connection and wellbeing checks that were once regularly delivered to their door by Meals on Wheels.

State Manager Nelson Mathews says planned changes to in-home support programs as outlined by the Australian Government are having a profound impact in Victoria. 

“The erosion of this health service—aimed at keeping people living at home longer, and reducing visits to hospital—is falling apart, sadly leaving many vulnerable Victorians nutritionally, physically and socially at risk.

“At a time when the healthcare system is under enormous pressure, investing in preventative health care is more important than ever. The watering-down of this essential service just doesn’t make sense.”

In a ‘last resort’, the State Peak Body, Meals on Wheels Victoria, has released a confronting report titled ‘Meals on Wheels in Victoria on the verge of collapse: state association warnings prove correct’ which calls for urgent action.

“If potential customers cannot reheat frozen meals due to cognitive or physical impairments, have a range of swallowing difficulties and need their food cut-up or modified, have special dietary requirements, are prone to falls, or could benefit from monitoring multiple times a week… then weekly or fortnightly supply of meals by a commercial supplier delivered by paid staff is unlikely to fulfil their needs.

“This reduced service is also unlikely to combat a sense of social isolation, maintain a sense of community connection and safety, or provide comfort and solace to families.

“There needs to be an urgent review and impact assessment on recent developments to ensure the best outcomes for older Victorians.”

Key facts:

  • From February – April 2020, Meals on Wheels Victoria delivered more than 35,000 meals to almost 10,500 people per week, equating to around 1.7 million meals across the year.
  • The majority of Meals on Wheels customers are over 65 and of these, the largest age cohort are aged between 80 and 90. The primary reason they receive meals is to assist them to remain living independently in their own homes. The driving force behind government funding is preventative care; fiscally, it helps reduce hospital visits, and or, premature entry into aged care facilities.

Report Summary

  • The current policy and system settings effectively mean:
    • More organisations are providing meals once a week (sometimes fortnightly), even though storage (of such a quantity) and handling of these meals is beyond the capacity of many older people.
    • The monitoring of frail, vulnerable, physically challenged or cognitively impaired older Australians is highly likely to occur less frequently. 
    • The dramatic reduction in the number of person-to-person contacts, due to the loss of volunteers, may increase the sense of isolation and disconnection for many vulnerable older Australians and lead to increases in loneliness. A Meals on Wheels delivery person may be the only human contact a customer has on a regular basis. 
  • Meals on Wheels Victoria is calling for an urgent review and impact assessment on recent developments to ensure the best outcomes for older Victorians. 

Media contact:

Alina Tooley