"Rotten" aged care sector will be exposed by Royal Commission: advocate warns

SPOTLIGHT: Failings of the aged care industry will come under scrutiny from a Royal Commission.
SPOTLIGHT: Failings of the aged care industry will come under scrutiny from a Royal Commission.

A ROYAL Commission will show the aged care sector is as “rotten” as the banking and financial services industry, a leading seniors’ advocate has warned. 

“It’s time for a real clean-up of the industry and forget about the dime-a-dozen reviews and reforms of the last few years,” said Paul Versteege from Combined Pensioners and Superannuants Association in response to Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s announcement that a new Royal Commission will scrutinise all aspects of the industry. 

It’s taken years of complaints from families, shocking video surveillance of assaults, deaths, injuries, reports, reviews a senate inquiry into rampant abuse at the Oakden mental health facility for the elderly in South Australia; and pressure from support and advocacy groups to force the government’s hand.

The commission’s exact terms of reference will be decided following consultation with residents, families, advocates and aged care providers but will include the quality of care and the extent of substandard care provided to older Australians, the challenge of caring for increasing numbers of people with dementia, the care of younger people with disabilities who are living in residential aged care; and future challenges for the industry. It will look at both residential and home-based aged care services.

Department of Health figures reveal an industry in crisis with almost one aged care home being forced to close every month, and many more facing sanctions for failing to meet standards of care.

There was a 177 per cent increase in the number of aged-care homes where a serious risk to residents was identified in the past financial year.

There was also a 292 per cent increase in the number of facilities that refused to comply with rules.

Complaints to the Aged Care Complaints Commissioner have increased with its 2016/17 annual report showing that of the 4,713 complaints received the majority (78 per cent) were about residential care. A further 15 per cent were about home care packages and seven per cent about the Commonwealth Home Support Program.

Around 1.3 million Australians access aged care services every year. 

TOUGH DECISION: Prime Minister Scott Morrison said Australians  needed to have confidence in the nation's aged care system.

TOUGH DECISION: Prime Minister Scott Morrison said Australians needed to have confidence in the nation's aged care system.

Mr Morrison said “Incidents of older people being hurt by failures of care simply cannot be explained or excused.  

“The evidence shows that the problems are not restricted to any one part of the aged care sector, whether it is for profit or not for profit, large or small facilities, regional or major metropolitan. The Royal Commission will look at the sector as a whole, without bias or prejudice.”

The prime minister said when Australians made the challenging decisions of how their loved ones will be looked after, they needed to have confidence in the nation's aged care system.

"That would have to be one of the toughest decisions you make. They are relying on you, 100 per cent, in their time of greatest vulnerability,” he said. 

“Our aged care sector in Australia provides some of the best care in the world. And we are looked to as a leader in the field. Aged care services and training has become an important service expert industry for Australia.

“There are thousands of extraordinary operators, facilities, care providers, nursing and other clinical staff, volunteers, cleaners, cooks, therapists out there improving the lives of senior Australians every day. They do it for love and out of a deep professional commitment.

“As a community we expect high standards for the quality and safety of aged care services. Our government shares these expectations. This Royal Commission will be about proactively determining what we need to do in the future to ensure these expectations can be met.

The announcement has been met with support from advocacy groups.

Older Person’s Advocacy Network chief executive Craig Gear said devastating examples of elder abuse continued to undermine community confidence in Australia’s aged care system.

“After a senate inquiry and a parliamentary probe, it is clear that we are seeing an industry under extreme pressure and more needs to be done,” Mr Gear said. 

“A Royal Commission is supported if it leads to long term change to protect older people, and we need action now.”

“The examples of elder abuse that have recently been brought to light are shocking – even one incident is one too many.

“And it’s also an unfair reflection on the thousands of hard-working and dedicated staff doing their best every day to care for older Australians.

“It’s no secret that resources and funding of the aged care sector is not keeping pace with demand and individuals’ complex care needs. Our ageing population means the situation will only get worse unless there is increased investment in the industry and a greater focus on quality of care,” said Mr Gear.

Ian Yates from Council on the Ageing said “Chronic systemic failures in our aged care sector must be addressed to prevent any repeat of the tragic events at Oaken and ensure older Australians get the support they need, when they need it.”  

However he said the government needed to continue with industry changes already recommended by a “string of inquiries. 

Greater consumer control and choice, tighter regulation of aged care quality, improved capacity of the aged care workforce and greater transparency were all critical to improving safety and quality in the aged care system,” he said.

Profit and not for profit industry representatives have confirmed they will work with the new commission. 

A statement from Aged and Community Services Australia said it would participate “fully and transparently” in the Royal Commission.

“As aged care providers, respect for our elders is at the heart of what we do. We share the community’s desire for older Australians to be able to choose from a range of quality aged care services that provide the compassionate and dignified care they need and deserve.

“The aged care sector does not fear scrutiny or accountability. We have actively participated in multiple and substantial government-led inquiries and reviews over the years with the aim of improving and delivering quality aged care services.” 

Leading Age Services Australia chief executive Sean Rooney said, “We all want a safe and high quality aged care system. Our older Australians need it and they deserve it.

“Regrettably in our industry there have been occasions where there have been unacceptable failures in care.

“Where there has been failures they are quite properly the subject of investigation and sanction.

“Our industry is absolutely committed to working to eliminate the risk of failures and to continuously improve standards of care, to ensure that the aged care system meets the changing needs and expectations of older Australians, and the wider community.”

“We have repeatedly told Government that the aged care system settings have not kept pace with the increase in demand for care and services, driven by the growing numbers of older Australians in our communities,” said Mr Rooney.

This story Advocacy groups applaud aged care Royal Commission news first appeared on The Senior.