As the national conversation about aged care gathers pace, HelloCare put some questions to The Hon Ken Wyatt AM, Minister for Senior Australians and Aged Care. We asked how reforms already underway and the problems highlighted by Four Corners will fit in with the work of the Royal Commission, and if further reforms are being considered by the government.

Q. Following last night’s Four Corners and amid growing calls for change in the aged care sector, is the Minister and the government feeling pressure to implement change sooner rather than waiting for the Royal Commission to run its course?

A. As noted by the Prime Minister when announcing the Royal Commission, the Commission’s Inquiry adds to actions already being undertaken by the Government to improve the quality of aged care.

While the Royal Commission goes about its important work, our reforms will continue at full pace.

These include the establishment of a new Aged Care Quality and Safety Commission from 1 January 2019, the execution of the new aged care workforce strategy, the rollout of the More Choices for a Longer Life package which includes measures to encourage active ageing and grow home care package numbers from 87,000 to 151,000, implementation of the new Aged Care Quality Standards and increasing funding to the sector by $1 billion per year.

Q. Would the government consider implementing changes to make staff ratios more transparent for consumers, as per the Member for Mayo, Rebekha Sharkie’s proposed legislation?

A. Our Government has a strong record of improving aged care transparency and we are committed to further work in this area, including the establishment of an online aged care provider comparison system.

Currently, the Service Finder tool on the My Aged Care website allows residential aged care providers to include information regarding how they manage staffing at their facility. There is also information on the My Aged Care website encouraging consumers to ask providers questions about staffing. These questions include the mix of registered nurses, enrolled nurses or trained carers and how the provider ensures there are enough of the right staff to care for residents’ needs.

The Aged Care Amendment (Staffing Ratio Disclosure) Bill 2018, which was introduced into the House of Representatives on 20 August 2018 by Rebekha Sharkie MP, was referred to the House Standing Committee on Health, Aged Care and Sport Committee on 22 August 2018. The Government will consider the Committee’s recommendations when available.

Q. Would the government consider implementing a register of complaints that is available online to the public?

A. As the Prime Minister has said, we will not pre-determine outcomes of the Royal Commission.

Meanwhile, the Aged Care Complaints Commissioner provides a free service for anyone to raise their concerns about the quality of care. There are strict confidentiality and anonymity provisions within aged care legislation that ensures people who request confidentiality are protected from having their identity disclosed.

However, the Aged Care Complaints Commissioner’s Annual Report provides information to the public, available online, regarding numbers of complaints, complainants and the most common subjects of complaints.

The 2017-18 Annual Report shows the most common issues raised in complaints about residential aged care were about:

  • medication administration and management (706),
  • personal and oral hygiene (473) and
  • personnel numbers/ratio (452).

In home care, the most common issues complained about were:

  • fees and charges (336),
  • lack of consultation and communication (167) and
  • communication about fees and charges (144).

For CHSP, the most commonly complained about issues were:

  • fees and charges (98),
  • lack of consultation and communication (80) and
  • communication about fees and charges (51).

Q. Would the government consider introducing a register of staff who have had aged care complaints made against them so they are not reemployed in the sector?

A. The Act contains provisions in relation to the employment of people with a criminal history to protect the health, well-being and safety of vulnerable older Australians. This does not preclude providers from implementing their own stronger requirements.

Every staff member or un-supervised volunteer who has contact with care recipients is required to have a current police check before they commence work. Prospective employees are precluded from working in aged care if they have a conviction for murder or sexual assault or a conviction, and sentence to imprisonment, for any other form of assault.

In addition, the Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency (AHPRA) is responsible for regulating certain health practitioners, including nurses. In particular, AHPRA conducts criminal history checks as part of the mandatory registration process to ensure only those practitioners who are suitable and safe to practise are granted registration in Australia.

Q. You said on ABC radio this morning you are “leaving the door open” to security cameras in aged care – will the government make cameras in aged care mandatory?

A. When it comes to the welfare of senior Australians receiving aged care services, nothing is off the table.

Approved providers of residential aged care are required by law to ensure each care recipient is safe from harm and can live in a safe, secure and home like environment without exploitation and abuse. Providers are also responsible for ensuring each care recipient’s right to privacy, dignity and confidentiality is recognised and respected.

Achieving a balance between the right for each care recipient to live in a safe environment with their right to privacy is a matter for aged care providers to negotiate with care recipients individually, in the context of the relevant state and territory legislation.

Q. Can you also give us an idea of when the RC will start, and how long you think it will run?

A. The Terms of Reference (ToR) for the Royal Commission are currently being considered and will be informed by consultation with the community, including aged care consumers and their families, and aged care providers and workers. Members of the community and the sector can provide their comments on the ToR until Tuesday 25 September.

The formal arrangements for the Royal Commission, including its term, are currently being considered.

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