Critics backlash against new aged care reforms
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Critics backlash against new aged care reforms

The Federal Government has announced sweeping new reforms to aged care following the Oakden elder abuse scandal, but critics label the changes as purely ‘cosmetic’ and call for more to be done.

Making the announcement last week, Federal Minister for Aged Care Ken Wyatt said the reforms are set to establish, for the first time, a new national independent Aged Care Quality and Safety Commission, which will oversee aged care regulation, compliance and complaints handling.

Oakden scandal prompts aged care reforms

The establishment of the Commission is in direct response to the Carnell-Paterson review into failures at South Australian’s Oakden Older Persons Mental Health Service, where South Australia’s chief psychiatrist found elderly dementia patients at the facility were abused and neglected by their carers over a decade.

The whistle was blown when the family of Oakden patient Bob Spriggs, who raised concerns about his treatment, including over-prescription of medication and unexplained bruises.

That prompted other families to come forward with similar concerns. A scathing report from the South Australian anti-corruption commissioner, Bruce Lander, later made maladministration findings against five individuals and the public authority overseeing the facility, which was closed last year.

“We recognise that the vast majority of providers give consistent, quality care to their residents,” Wyatte said. “But, as we have seen, there can be failures. We must ensure that disasters like Oakden are never repeated.”

According to Hunt, the latest Federal Government review into aged care, found the current aged care regulatory framework is fragmented and does not adequately provide the assurance the community expects.

“The unified new Commission will be a responsive, one-stop shop to prevent failures, highlight quality concerns and have them quickly rectified,” Wyatt said.“Importantly, the new Commission will give senior Australians and their loved ones a single point of contact when they need help in dealing with claims of sub-standard care. Risks to senior Australians will also be investigated promptly and care failures identified faster.”

Additional Turnbull Government quality reforms will include:

  • Developing options, in consultation with the aged care sector, for a Serious Incident Response Scheme to ensure the right systems are in place to identify an incident and prevent it from occurring again
  • A performance rating against quality standards
  • A user-friendly provider comparison tool on the My Aged Care website

Critics: reforms  not enough and purely ‘cosmetic’

Despite these sweeping reports, some commentators demand a more comprehensive approach to the reforms. Australian Greens Senator Rachel Siewert, said while the welcomed the announcement, she notes the Government has not responded to all the recommendations in the various recent reviews.

“They must commit to further reform so that aged care facilities are as safe as can be for older Australians,” she said.

“I welcome that there will be a public rating against quality standards, which will increase transparency, but more work needs to be done to ensure that the standards meet community expectations of the best possible care.

“There is urgent action needed to address mental health of older Australians in aged care facilities which is disproportionately high. It is essential that people in residential aged care get access to mental health services”.

Meanwhile the Combined Pensioner and Superannuation Association (CPSA) Policy Coordinator Paul Versteege, labeled the new reforms as purely a ‘cosmetic makeover.’

“The new Aged Care Quality and Safety Commission announced today will not change what happens in nursing homes and will not change the quality of care provided, because aged care standards are left untouched”, he said. “I have lost count how many times the agencies responsible for auditing nursing homes and complaints have been changed with much fanfare and claims that aged care in Australia will improve immeasurably”.

According to Versteege, the new Aged Care Quality and Safety Commission will not change anything until objectively measurable aged care quality standards are introduced and nursing homes are compelled to hire sufficient and adequately qualified staff to meet those standards.

“To treat the Oakden scandal as an aberration and the introduction of a new Aged Care Quality and Safety Commission as the thing that will prevent further scandal is nonsense,” he added. “There will be further scandals and the inhumane day-to-day treatment of nursing home residents will continue to be the rule, not the exception.

“Anyone claiming that the vast majority of nursing homes are providing adequate care is living in a bubble.”

The new Commission will start from 1 January 2019 and will bring together the functions of the Australian Aged Care Quality Agency, the Aged Care Complaints Commissioner and the aged care regulatory functions of the Department of Health.

A new Chief Clinical Advisor will provide advice to the Commission, particularly on complex clinical matters.

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