The Aged Care Quality and Safety Commission has revealed which areas of aged care generate the highest number of complaints, with medication management again coming out on top.

When families make the difficult decision to place a loved one into residential aged care, they expect the person to be treated with dignity and respect, and that they will receive the expert care and attention they need.

But as we read too often in the media, especially recently during the royal commission hearings, residents sometimes don’t receive the care we would expect. When things go wrong, the consequences can be heartbreaking and sometimes catastrophic, not only for the older person themselves, but also for families, and also often for staff.

In the royal commission’s hearings, it has been noted on a number of occasions how important it is that families can make a complaint to management, and have their complaint listened to and acted upon. 

It’s usually only when the complaints process breaks down or is ineffective that the matter is escalated to the national quality regulator, the Aged Care Quality and Safety Commission.

In its latest report, the commission has revealed it received 1,633 complaints between January and March 2019.

So which areas of aged care do users complain about the most?

1. Medication management

The commission received 235 complaints about medication management over the three-month period.

Managing medication is a core component of aged care. Medication is frequently used, and when it is prescribed or administered incorrectly, the consequences can be extremely serious. 

According to a survey of more than 700 members by the Nurses and Midwifery Federation of NSW, 83 per cent of nurses have witnessed a medication error in residential aged care.

A report by the University of South Australia states that almost all – 98 per cent – of aged care residents have experienced a medication-related problem. The same report states that 17 per cent of unplanned hospital admissions by people living in residential aged care are caused by being given an inappropriate medicine.

According to the Pharmaceutical Society of Australia, medication errors cost Australia more than $1.2 billion every year.

Hopefully, now that medical records are being centrally stored in a single location on My Health Records, fewer medication problems will arise in aged care facilities.

2. Fall prevention and management

The commission received 164 complaints about falls prevention and management between January and March 2019.

Around 88 per cent of all injuries that occur in aged care facilities are the result of falls, according to Monash University. The figure is slightly higher for those living with dementia.

“Falls prevention and post-fall management should remain the main focus of injury prevention efforts in residential aged care,” the university’s Victorian Injury Surveillance Unit has written.

3. Personnel number / ratio

The commission received 157 complaints about personnel numbers and staff ratios.

One of the most common pieces of feedback we receive from our readers who work in aged care is that there aren’t enough staff employed in their facility. Staff are rushed, and often feel they are not doing all they wish they could for residents.

The Australian Nursing and Midwifery Federation has had a longstanding recommendation that staff ratios be mandated, and Rebakkah Sharkie has a bill before parliament calling for transparency around staffing ratios. 

The royal commission may well make a recommendation around this hotly debated area of aged care in its final report.

4. Personnel behaviour / conduct

The commission received 137 complaints about staff conduct.

It is a sad reflection on the industry that we hear so often about aged care staff being are either too busy, not properly experienced or skilled, or simply without the empathy to care properly for the residents in their care.

But it’s also worth remembering that while staff conduct is a common area for complaints in aged care, there are hundreds of thousands of aged care workers all around the country doing an amazing job every single day.

5. Continence management

The commission received 115 complaints about the continence management of their loved one.

Approximately 77 per cent of aged care residents are affected by incontinence and 40-60 per cent wet the bed at night, according to the Continence Foundation of Australia.

Incontinence should be regularly assessed and managed. If the home’s incontinence routine does not suit the individual, staff should accommodate the person’s needs.

Have you experienced any of these problems in your dealings with aged care facilities? Share your thoughts with us.

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