Newcastle-based lawyer and Australian expert in aged care and health law, Catherine Henry, has criticised the Federal Government’s latest aged care policy announcement.
The government this week announced that from January 1, 2019 a new Aged Care Quality and Safety Commission will bring together the Australian Aged Care Quality Agency, the Aged Care Complaints Commission and the aged care regulatory arm of the Health Department. A new ratings system will allow facilities to be graded against key benchmarks, and a comparison tool will be available on the My Aged Care website.
Ms Henry said this latest bureaucratic idea of merging a number of agencies – dubbed by Minister Ken Wyatt when launching the new initiative on Wednesday as a “one-stop shop” to prevent failures and monitor and enforce quality standards – falls a long way short of what is needed.
She said there has been significant and widespread criticism of two of the more significant agencies – both the Aged Care Complaints Scheme (ACCS) and the Aged Care Quality Agency since both were introduced as part of the reforms brought in by the Aged Care Act in 1997. Doctors, consumer health groups, seniors groups and lawyers have described the Aged Care Complaints Scheme – in particular – as an ineffective body with a lack of independence and transparency.
“The Government is yet to provide full details of its proposal but simply merging three Commonwealth agencies – each of which have proved ineffective – will not address key problems of a lack of independence, accountability and transparency within the aged care system.
What is needed in the aged care sector is the introduction of positive and mandatory legal obligations requiring all aged care facilities to take proactive measures to promote the health and wellbeing of their residents,” Ms Henry said.
“The only way to prevent the systemic failures which have led to the horror stories we increasingly read and see in the media – cases involving inadequate personal care, neglect, abuse and premature and avoidable deaths – is to ensure a sufficient number of trained staff are employed in aged care homes,” she said.
“Mandating ratios – or ratio of registered nurses to residents – has been shown in studies around the globe to have a positive impact on the standards of care in an aged care home. Minister Wyatt acknowledged there are issues with staffing when announcing this reform.”
Ms Henry said that Mr Wyatt’s explanation for lack of action in this area is disingenuous.
“Mr Wyatt says that mandated ratios in child-care has increased costs for families. Whether or not this is true, the government clearly values the safety of children in child care sufficiently to mandate ratios. The government also values the safety of patients in hospitals to mandate ratios. The government clearly does not value the safety of older people in aged care homes enough to mandate ratios.”
“Until the government legislates to deal with this key issue confronting the quality of aged care, we will continue to see the heartbreaking stories of neglect and abuse of our frail aged on our television screens each night.”
Catherine Henry is the founder of Newcastle-based law firm Catherine Henry Lawyers. She specialises in health and aged care law.
Media information: Catherine Henry on 0417 292 700