The aged care watchdog paid a top-tier legal firm $30,000 to respond to a Freedom of Information (FOI) request from the ABC.

The Aged Care Quality and Safety Commission contracted Clayton Utz to advise it on a FOI request from the ABC about COVID-19, according to a report by the ABC.

The contract was worth $28,900, almost as much as a level 3 home care package.

The regulator told the ABC the legal firm was engaged to deal with “multiple” enquiries, and the nature of the work extended “well beyond a single day’s work”.

“The commission routinely seeks legal advice in responding to FOI requests to ensure that we comply with all relevant legislation,” the commission told the ABC.

“If the commission’s legal staff are unavailable to provide this advice, a decision can be made to obtain external legal advice,” it said.

Watchdog audits decline during pandemic

It appears that the FOI requests were lodged after ACQSC Commissioner Janet Anderson revealed, when appearing before the Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety, that the number of quality checks being carried out on nursing homes had fallen during the pandemic.

Commissioner Janet Anderson recently told the Royal Commission the number of aged care audits had actually fallen during the COVID-19 pandemic, despite the Commission being given $6.5 million to employ additional assessors.

However, the regulator had audited only 13 per cent, or 30, of the 220 aged care homes that had experienced COVID-19 outbreaks, the ABC says.

In the inquiry by the Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety into aged care’s response to COVID-19, Commissioner Janet Anderson admitted the number of home care quality inspections had also declined.

In the March quarter of 2019, there were 145 home care quality reviews. In the June quarter, there were 181 home care quality reviews. But in the September quarter there were only 24 reviews, there were 22 reviews in the December quarter, and 29 in the March 2020 quarter.

Ms Anderson admitted, “I think the point you are making is valid … regulatory activity in so far as you would include quality reviews and assessment contacts, as reported, have declined.”

The decline was attributed to increased staff turnover, in part because of the retirement of a number of experienced staff, but also because of the use of contractors.

HelloCare reached out to the Aged Care Quality and Safety Commission for this article but at the time of publishing had not received a response.

Image: Violeta Stoimenova, iStock.

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