Another Australian Inquiry – care in crisis?

On the 15 September 2018, Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced that the Australian Government would establish a Royal Commission into Australia’s aged care sector following a string of horrific revelations of elderly abuse and neglect that have shattered public faith in the care system.

Recent figures in Australia show that complaints about the sector have risen steeply and authorities have forcibly closed one aged-care service provider a month following a review triggered by a recent nursing home scandal in mid-2017. A further 17 aged care facilities in Australia currently have sanctions imposed.In mid-2017, the emergence of critical care failures at Oakden, a state government-run nursing home for dementia patients in Adelaide, fuelled claims that the aged care sector was in crisis in Australia. Among the failings – which spanned a decade – were allegations that a 70-year-old resident was beaten to death by another patient, and a 99-year-old female resident was indecently assaulted by a male carer. Another patient allegedly received 10 times the prescribed amount of antipsychotic medication and was later hospitalised for significant unexplained bruising, a chest infection and extreme dehydration. Officials later declared that a “toxic” culture of cover-ups had allowed abuse to go undetected.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison said incidents of older people being hurt by failures of care “simply cannot be explained or excused”. He went on to say:

“Australians must be able to trust that their loved ones will be cared for appropriately and the community should have confidence in the system.”

Mr Morrison said his government was “committed to providing older Australians with access to care that supports their dignity and recognises the contribution that they have made to society”.

In recent years, countless disturbing claims of elder abuse have been levelled at nursing homes. A Senate inquiry into the aged care sector in Australia in February, 2018 found evidence of “systemic issues that negatively impact the quality of aged care services” throughout Australia.

The Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety was formally established on 8 October 2018. The Governor-General appointed the Honourable Justice Joseph McGrath and Ms Lynelle Briggs AO as Royal Commissioners. The Commissioners are required to provide an interim report by 31 October 2019, and a final report by 30 April 2020.

The Royal Commission’s terms of reference means that it will examine the preparedness of the system to cope with an ageing population, the increasing number of residents with dementia, and care provided to younger Australians with disabilities who have been placed in residential aged care facilities.

It will also investigate residential, home, and community aged care – which includes home support packages and services such as social support and meal delivery. About 1.3 million Australians access these services each year, including 240,000 people in residential care. It will not specifically investigate retirement villages.

The data also reveals that complaints to the Aged Care Complaints Commissioner in Australia about residential aged care reached 4,300 in the last financial year, up from 3,200 two years prior. Complaints about home and community care rose from about 3,900 to 5,780 in the same period.

For those operating and providing care for the aged and the vulnerable in the UK the announcement of the Australian Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety should sound an early warning.

The Care Quality Commission published its Annual Report, “State of Care 2017/2018” on  10 October, 2018 and that report identifies serious concerns for the sector going forward and they are as follows:

  • The number of older people living with unmet care needs continues to rise.
  • A third of NHS acute core services are rated as requiring improvement – 1 in 6 adult social care services need to improve and 1 in 5 NHS mental core health services need to improve.
  • There are 110,000 vacancies in adult social care. Problems with staff recruitment and retention are impacting on the capacity of local services to deliver.
  • Demand for care continues to rise, this demand is from an ageing population, as well as the increasing number of people living with chronic conditions or multiple conditions such as diabetes and cancer.
  • Funding challenges in health and social care are well-documented – the UK government has announced £20.5 billion extra funding for the NHS by 2023/24, but there is not yet a similar long-term solution for adult social care. Funding challenges have seen significant numbers of home care providers closing or stopping trading in the last 6 months in the UK.

One wonders if a similar inquiry into aged care quality and safety was to be announced in the UK how would operators and providers fare?

We will provide updates as the Australian Inquiry progresses.



Authored by Sharon Moohan, Partner and James Chambers, Associate.


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