The Federal Government’s latest aged-care policy announcement falls significantly short of what’s required to address the crisis in the sector. 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 may 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 prevent inadequate clinical care and neglect of aged-care residents.
The key change required is mandatory staff-to-patient ratios to tackle the woefully inadequate staffing arrangements that operate in the sector.
Mandating such ratios has been shown in studies around the world to have a 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 when the Howard government did its overhaul of the aged-care sector in 1997.
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 investors.
The Minister for Aged Care, Ken Wyatt, and the government boasts about a system that provides “world class” care. Only last week when introducing the “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, among 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 past 20 years has been prepared to tackle the crisis affecting the aged-care sector.
There have been countless inquiries and reviews, but none have focused on clinical standards. The Gillard government’s Living Longer Living Better reforms, which followed the 2011 Productivity Commission report Caring for Older Australians, 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.