Australia’s aged care sector will soon have to answer to a single watchdog under Federal Government reforms in the wake of the Oakden elder abuse scandal in South Australia.
Aged Care Minister Ken Wyatt has announced plans to combine three separate agencies which handle quality control and complaints in the aged care sector by the beginning of 2019.
A new ratings system allowing facilities to be graded against key benchmarks, and a comparison tool on the My Aged Care website, will also be introduced.
“The unified new commission will be a responsive, one-stop shop to prevent failures, highlight quality concerns and have them quickly rectified,” Mr Wyatt said.
When you bring three Commonwealth agencies [together], you streamline a process. You’re not waiting for one to write to the other or seek advice from the other.”
The consolidation of services was recommended by a review of national aged care regulation established in direct response to revelations about the Oakden aged care facility in Adelaide’s north-east.
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 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 damning maladministration findings against five individuals and the public authority overseeing the facility, which was closed last year.
The former Labor minister at the centre of the Oakden nursing home scandal, Leesa Vlahos, announced she was quitting politics days before Mr Lander released his report.
Risk profiling of carers to be increased
The Council on the Ageing has described the latest federal reforms as a “significant step” towards “better monitoring and enforcement” of aged care compliance, and rebuilding trust in the system.
“It is appropriate the new commission explain in an easy to understand way how individual providers comply with the standards expected of them,” chief executive Ian Yates said.
The new agency, to be called the Aged Care Quality and Safety Commission, will bring together the Australian Aged Care Quality Agency, the Aged Care Complaints Commissioner and the aged care regulatory arm of the Health Department.
“We’ll also have a serious incident response scheme, which came out of the Australian Law Reform Commission recommendations, so that we protect senior Australians who are vulnerable in facilities,” Mr Wyatt said.
A chief clinical advisor will advise the commission on complex clinical issues, and risk profiling of aged care workers will also be bolstered.
“What we’ve seen around this country is that … staff who have been trained in a very short timeframe, and who have not had hands-on experience, struggle,” Mr Wyatt said.
“Some individuals are not suited. They’ve not realised what the job is.”
The Government will establish a taskforce within the Health Department to implement the changes by January 1.
Mr Wyatt said the reforms follow a move to make all re-accreditation audits at aged care facilities unannounced, rather than allowing advanced notice.