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Sector reacts to new aged care watchdog

Minister for Aged Care Ken Wyatt today announced new quality benchmarks and checks for aged care homes.

The reforms will centre around the establishment of a new national independent Aged Care Quality and Safety Commission that the government hopes will increase transparency through a publicly available rating against quality standards.

Wyatt said the new Commission will give older Australians and their loved ones a single point of contact when they need help dealing with claims of sub-standard care.

“The unified new Commission will be a responsive, one-stop shop to prevent failures, highlight quality concerns and have them quickly rectified,” he said. “Risks to senior Australians will be investigated promptly and care failures identified faster.”

Aged & Community Services Australia (ACSA) chief executive Pat Sparrow said the streamlining of the functions of the Australian Aged Care Quality Agency and the Aged Care Complaints Commissioner into a single agency should improve the regulatory system.

COTA Australia chief executive Ian Yates agreed that consolidating Australia’s aged care oversight powers into a single independent Commission was a significant step towards better monitoring and enforcement of quality in Australia’s aged care system.

Rating system for public reporting of aged care

Yates also welcomed news that the new Commission will develop a transparent ratings system, showing how individual nursing homes perform against Aged Care Quality Standards. “Providers will start being measured against new and much more consumer focused standards on 1 July 2019 and the results will be able to be compared on the My Aged Care website,” he said.

Sparrow said ACSA and its members are keen to work with the government to ensure that the performance rating system and comparison tool add value to the quality system. “These tools must be fair and accurate for providers while giving older people and their families clear and meaningful information about aged care,” she said.

Leading Age Services Australia chief executive Sean Rooney said the peak believes more work needs to be done to understand what consumers value and how they can best get accurate information to assist in their decision making.

Serious Incident Response Scheme

LASA’s Rooney said it might be “going too far” to place new and extended reporting responsibilities on providers without adequately considering the arrangements already in place.

“Several mechanisms already exist to report issues if they arise so the proposed SIRS program needs to be further investigated to determine what additional value it brings to the system,” he explained.

ACSA’s Sparrow echoed Rooney’s sentiments, saying aged care providers already comply with serious incident reporting requirements and added there is little evidence that a new version of the system will improve the quality of care for residents which is, she added, the only reason change should be made.

“Refinements to the existing scheme may achieve that aim more effectively than introducing an entirely new one”.

How we got here and where to next

The reforms were established in response to recommendations by Kate Carnell and Professor Ron Paterson in their 2017 ‘Review of National Aged Care Quality Regulatory Processes’, set up to investigate failures at South Australian’s Oakden Older Persons Mental Health Service.

Wyatt said: “We recognise that the vast majority of providers give consistent, quality care to their residents. But, as we have seen, there can be failures. We must ensure that disasters like Oakden are never repeated.”

COTA noted that the Carnell/Paterson inquiry also included a recommendation for the appointment of a consumer commissioner in the new body, tasked with ensuring older adults and their families receive full information about their rights and are supported and protected to exercise those rights.

“The atrocities at Oakden were only brought to light thanks to the tenacity and persistence of Oakden family members, demonstrating the importance of having strong consumer voices heard in aged care quality processes,” said Yates. “We need to make it much easier, indeed normal practice, for consumers and families to be involved – that’s why we need the Consumer Commissioner’s role.”

UnitingCare Australia national director Claerwen Little said she hopes news of the Commission will go some way to improving the view of aged care in Australia. “We have been increasingly concerned about the anxiety that negative coverage creates for residents and families, as well as the stress that it creates for our staff. This is the first step in re-establishing confidence in a system which, by and large, works well.”

A new chief clinical advisor will provide advice to the Commission, particularly on complex clinical matters.

The new Commission will start from 1 January 2019 and will bring together the functions of the Australian Aged Care Quality Agency, that Aged Care Complaints Commissioner and the aged care regulatory functions of the Department of Health.

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