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Royal Commission: forensic medicine expert talks triggers, transparency

The announcement that the Government will establish a Royal Commission into the aged care sector has brought the treatment our elder Australians face into the national spotlight.

But Prime Minister Scott Morrison and Minister for Senior Australians and Aged Care Ken Wyatt have come under intense scrutiny over the timing of the announcement – some see it as a preemptive strike before ABC’s Four Corners report into the sector. The Prime Minister allegedly cut $1.2 billion of funding from aged care when he served as treasurer, and Wyatt previously insisted that a Royal Commission is not, in fact, needed.

With an election slated for later this year or early next, Morrison will be keen to see this issue dealt with while the sector is keen to see the slated reforms go ahead unimpeded by the commission.

When approached by Aged Care Insite, Wyatt said:

Following intensified policing and inspections of the sector in the past year, information has come to light in recent weeks through the Aged Care Complaints Commissioner, the Australian Aged Care Quality Agency and the Department of Health that makes the case for a royal commission into the sector compelling.

For instance, findings of serious risk against service providers have risen by 177 per cent over the past year.

Referrals to the Australian Aged Care Quality Agency have risen 188 per cent over the past year, and non-compliance notices are up by 185 per cent. The Royal Commission will get to the bottom of what is going on. While the Royal Commission goes about its vital work, the Government’s unprecedented aged care reform agenda will continue.

Aged Care Guild chief executive Matthew Richter believes the Royal Commission will “stimulate action and contribute to a shift in Australian political and social ethos toward ageing”.

“Successive governments have conducted numerous reviews into aged care over the past decade. The issues are well-known and many of the answers are already on the table, but comprehensive action by government has not been forthcoming to deal with the fundamental instability facing this important sector,” Richter said.

Benetas chief executive Sandra Hills welcomed the commission with a somewhat cautious tone, asking whether or not the Royal Commission will achieve the outcomes sought. “Will it achieve clarity on how older Australians can be confident they will receive the quality of care they deserve and address funding sustainability once and for all? Will it determine how we, as a society, can alleviate the concerns that residents and families continue to raise?”

Professor Joseph Ibrahim of the Health Law and Ageing Research Unit, Department of Forensic Medicine at Monash University, is surprised by the move and believes that this could have been avoided if previous warnings were heeded by successive governments.

In a 2017 study, entitled Premature deaths of nursing home residents: an epidemiological analysis, Ibrahim and his co-authors concluded that:

 The incidence of premature and potentially preventable deaths of nursing home residents has increased over the past decade. A national policy framework is needed to reduce the incidence of premature deaths among Australians living in nursing homes.”

The report looked at deaths in accredited nursing homes that were reported to coroners over a 13 year period and were judged to have resulted from external or non-natural causes.

They found that “of 21,672 deaths of nursing home residents, 3,289 (15.2 per cent) resulted from external causes. The most frequent mechanisms of death were falls (2,679 cases, 81.5 per cent), choking (261 cases, 7.9 per cent) and suicide (146 cases, 4.4 per cent)”.

Although Ibrahim et al found transparency to be a great impediment to finding a true reflection of preventable deaths in aged care. They were confident that their “data challenge[s] the misperception that all deaths of frail, older persons with multiple comorbidities living in residential care are natural”.

Ibrahim spoke with Aged Care Insite to discuss the Royal Commission and the problems facing the sector.

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3 comments

  1. ‘ The Prime Minister allegedly cut $1.2 billion of funding from aged care when he served as treasurer,’
    My question being who is going to hold the government accountable for their abuse of the elderly in care.

  2. Yes the current Prime Minister, when Treasurer, cut $1.2 billion from aged care, and now as Prime Minister is giving it to Private Schools. There must be an election coming! The Minister responsible for aged care is surprised that the incidents highlighted in the program have not been reported to the Complaints Commissioner/Agency. Yes, extremely surprising!

  3. I recently attended the QNMU Conference in Brisbane which hosted Dr Ibrahim as a key speaker.
    I found his presentation dynamic and so informative. I would have absolute confidence that he should be the key person that the Aged care Commission should interview, and take on board his knowledge and experience. He has been in Aged Care sectors for 30 plus years and has written many recommendations that have been ‘on point’ but ignored by successive governments.