The government has decided to establish a Royal Commission into the aged care sector to address areas of concern regarding the quality and safety of services.
Announcing the Royal Commission yesterday, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said it will be about proactively determining what the nation needs to do in the future to meet community expectations about the standard of aged care.
“Incidences of older people being hurt by failures of care simply cannot be explained or excused,” Morisson said. “We must be assured about how widespread these cases are.”
The Prime Minister added that the Royal Commission is not about pre-determining outcomes. “Whether there is a crisis in aged care or not is to be determined. That is the point of holding a Royal Commission.”
The Australian College of Nursing (ACN) voiced its support for the call.
Adjunct Professor Kylie Ward, ACN chief executive, said the Royal Commission must be used as an opportunity to independently review the aged care sector to ensure the system, including its workforce, provides quality care.
The college would like to see focus placed on improving quality and control of services, increasing informed consumer choice and securing the future workforce.
“In 2016, the nursing profession made up 15 per cent of the aged care workforce,” Ward said. “Therefore, we expect the views of nurses to be sought as the Royal Commission strives to find solutions to identified issues.”
She added that the Royal Commission should consider the recommendations made in David Tune’s Legislated Review of Aged Care 2017 and Review of National Aged Care Quality Regulatory Processes penned by Kate Carnell and Professor Ron Paterson, as well as the Aged Care Workforce Strategy Taskforce report, as it moves towards starting its investigation.
Leading Age Services Australia chief executive Sean Rooney said the sector needs adequate funding and support structures to better enable, develop and grow the aged care workforce, and implement optimal staffing models.
Rooney added that the government must not lose sight of making the system better right now.
This point was echoed by COTA Australia, which stressed that the Royal Commission must not delay significant aged care reforms underway and in the wings.
Chief executive Ian Yates said while the Royal Commission does its work, the government should get on with reforms surrounding greater consumer control and choice, tighter regulation of aged care quality, improved capacity of the aged care workforce, and greater transparency.
“Both the Tune Review and the Carnell/Paterson Report into our aged care sector made significant recommendations on how we can and must improve regulation, funding and transparency in our aged care sector,” Yates said.
He said some of those recommendations are in train and must not stall while Australia waits for the outcomes of a Royal Commission that will run well into 2019.
Indeed, that concern seemingly informed the government’s lack of interest in pursuing a Royal Commission earlier. In a recent interview, Minister for Senior Australians and Aged Care Ken Wyatt told Four Corners that: “A Royal Commission after two years and maybe $200 million being spent on it will come back with the same set or a very similar set of recommendations. The Governments will respond and put into place similar bodies.”
He has since tried to shed light on those comments. “I said I would rather spend the money on frontline services on aged care than a Royal Commission at that point,” he told reporters after Morrison’s announcement. “But there are a set of circumstances that I have seen in aged care since that time, including in my own electorate, that take me to the point that it is a crisis issue that individual families face when a daughter wants to get her father into aged care, has him placed, and then the aged care provider in that circumstance says, ‘we can’t take him’.
“On that basis I gave reconsideration to the need for a Royal Commission.”
Aged & Community Services Australia (ACSA) said the sector does not fear scrutiny or accountability. “We have actively participated in multiple and substantial government-led inquiries and reviews over the years with the aim of improving and delivering quality aged care services,” the peak body for Australia’s not-for-profit aged care providers said in a statement.
“We will participate fully and transparently in the Royal Commission towards the same ends.”
ACSA wants the Royal Commission to focus on the critical issues facing aged care and drill down into any root causes. “This will give us the foundation to deliver on public expectations in the future.”
But the Australian Nursing and Midwifery Federation (ANMF) said the Royal Commission will “do nothing to fix the crisis in aged care” unless the Government introduces mandated staffing ratios in residential nursing homes.
ANMF Federal Secretary Annie Butler said: “We can’t allow a Royal Commission to delay action from the government any longer. This government has had five years to fix the problems in aged care – they must stop the suffering now.
“While the current aged care crisis clearly warrants a Royal Commission, we know what the problems are.
"We have two decades of reports and inquiries outlining the problems. It’s time to take action. Let’s start by introducing a safe staffing law.”
While Morrison said the Terms of Reference will be determined in consultation with the community, he expects that the Royal Commission will cover:
- The quality of care provided to older Australians, and the extent of substandard care
- The challenge of providing care to Australians with disabilities living in residential aged care, particularly younger people with disabilities
- The challenge of supporting the increasing number of Australians living with dementia and addressing their care needs as they age
- The future challenges and opportunities for delivering aged care services in the context of changing demographics, including in remote, rural and regional Australia, and
- Any other matters that the Royal Commission considers necessary.
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