The Federal Government’s latest aged care policy announcement falls significantly short of what’s required to address the crisis in aged care.
From January 1, 2019 a new, “independent” 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.
This latest bureaucratic idea of merging agencies, dubbed by Aged Care Minister Ken Wyatt as a “one-stop shop to prevent failures and monitor and enforce quality standards”, is no doubt argued to have some efficiency benefits but the relevant agencies have long been regarded as ineffective – lacking independence, transparency and accountability.
What is needed is proactive structural reform. Measures that will play a role in preventing inadequate clinical care and neglect of our frail aged care residents. The key change required is to tackle the woefully inadequate staffing arrangements that operate in the sector and introduce mandatory staff to patient ratios.
Mandating ratios of registered nurses to aged care residents has been shown in studies around the world to have a clear positive impact on standards of care. We have mandated staffing ratios in child care centres and in hospitals so why not aged care facilities?
The residential aged care market became very attractive to investors – private equity firms, foreign investors and property investment trusts – when the Howard government did its overhaul of the aged care sector in 1997 by introducing the 1997 Aged Care Act. Since that time, our aged care system has been consumer driven and free market based. Standards of care have been compromised by the commercial interests of those who have invested in the sector.
Our current Minister for Aged Care and the Government boasts about a system that provides “world class” care. Only last week when introducing the new “super agency” Mr Wyatt said the government recognised “the vast majority of providers give consistent, quality care to their residents”.
How can the Minister make such claims when the media is saturated by shocking stories of inadequate clinical care, neglect and abuse in aged care?
It would help his credibility if there was data available to measure quality indicators on the incidence of pressure sores, falls, infection and sepsis rates and medication errors amongst others but such data, if it exists, is not made publicly available. Without such data, we are left with the horror stories, unchallenged.
No government in the last 20 years since the 1997 Aged Care Act was introduced has been prepared to tackle the crisis affecting the aged care sector. There have been countless enquiries and reviews but none have focussed on clinical standards. The Gillard government’s Living Longer Living Better Reforms which followed the 2011 Report of the Productivity Commission Report dealt almost exclusively with financing arrangements and the lack of integration between the aged care and health systems.
The Federal Opposition has long been silent on the standards of care in aged care accommodation. Perhaps the newly elected Member for Batman, Ged Kearney MP, a former nurse, who launched the ‘Because we care – Quality Care for Older Australians’ campaign when president of the ACTU, can guide her political colleagues to hold the Federal Government properly to account in this area.
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