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.”
Leading Age Services Australia chief executive Sean Rooney said if the sector is to meet the growing and changing needs and expectations of the increasing numbers of older Australians, “we must get a number of things right simultaneously, including access to services, funding of services and quality of services”.
“Adequate funding and support structures to better enable, develop and grow our aged care workforce, and implement optimal staffing models, are also critical,” Rooney said. “Whilst recent Governments have made some changes to the aged care system, review after review has been conducted and successive governments have failed to respond effectively.”
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.
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 sector 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.”
Dementia Australia chief executive Maree McCabe said the Royal Commission will be an opportunity to provide direction on mapping out future need.
“Whilst there are many providers committed to providing high quality care it is evident there are systematic deficiencies and challenges now in staffing, education and in the capacity to provide the quality of care people living with dementia and all people accessing aged care services deserve,” McCabe said. “Urgent action is needed to address these challenges for all those accessing the system now and to plan for the increased demand to come.
“Dementia Australia has long called for the introduction of quality standards around dementia, increased dementia training levels and qualifications and a funding framework to support these initiatives.”
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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