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hearings wrap up

The Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety had its final hearings wrap up today, and leading aged care lawyer and advocate on aged care reform, Catherine Henry, says the comprehensive, integrated suite of recommendations submitted by counsel assisting, Peter Rozen SC and Peter Gray QC, go a long way to addressing the crisis in aged care.

Ms Henry, who is also the Australian Lawyers Alliance national spokesperson on aged care, is concerned about the federal government’s lack of will and sense of urgency to implement real reform, which means more older Australians will needlessly suffer or die.

During the final two days of hearings held by the Commission on October 22 and 23, Counsel Assisting submitted a lengthy list of 123 recommendations.

Ms Henry says she’s pleased to see that the recommendations addressed fundamental root cause problems for the sector such as legislation, governance, regulation, public availability of aged care provider performance against benchmark quality indicators as well as minimum staffing, improved pay for aged care workers, and workforce training.

These are the issues Ms Henry has been consistently advocating for and were central to her statement to the Royal Commission during its public workshop in Newcastle in November 2019.

“The first recommendation is for a new Aged Care Act to replace the one that was written by the sector for the sector back in 1997,” Ms Henry said.

“When the government introduced the Act it was clear its motive was about containing costs of care as opposed to, needs based, quality care,” she said.

“Despite more than 20 enquiries into aged care in the 20 plus years since the Act was introduced, the legislation has nothing to say about regulation.

“Experts and advocates, backed by the latest research released by the Royal Commission on Wednesday (October 21), shows the current regulator is an ineffective, toothless tiger.

“The proposal to have a new Australian Aged Care Commission – independent of Ministerial influence – as well as an independent Inspector General responsible for implementing reforms and monitoring the performance of the new Aged Care Commission provides proper accountability and effectiveness on behalf of aged care recipients, their families, and the Australian public.”

The current Australian Quality and Safety Commission is an agency of the Commonwealth Health Department.

Research conducted by the National Ageing Research Institute (NARI) for the Royal Commission found only 25 per cent of Australians receiving aged care at home or in a facility believed their needs were being met. Fewer than 1 per cent of concerns by older Australians about substandard aged care were officially raised with the current watchdog, the Aged Care Safety and Quality Commission, because people thought there was no point in doing so.  The survey also reinforced that the main issues for concern amongst residents and their families were staffing, high rates of staff turnover, and inadequate training.

Ms Henry’s firm, based in regional NSW , handles many cases for residents and families who experience poor care or negligence in aged care facilities as well as support for those entering into accommodation contracts with aged care providers.  She said that the recommendations, including regulation, quality targets and minimum staffing, are very important to address the experience of aged care residents in regional and remote Australia.

“Given the Government’s poor response to aged care in the recent budget and to countless other reports I am concerned about how long it will take for the Government to act on the Royal Commission’s findings and reports.

“Counsel assisting has correctly recommended that some of the initiatives it has put forward be implemented even before the Royal Commission’s final report is released (due February 2021).

“The Government appears to be content to wait to act until after the Commission’s report is release in February 2021. Meanwhile, older Australians are suffering and at risk in aged care facilities and those caring for them face an uphill battle to provide appropriate care.”

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