Aged care in Australia: “cruel and harmful” and “must be changed”

Simply titled Neglect, the royal commission’s interim report slams the aged care system. What happens next?

A summary

The Interim Report claims we have a substandard system that:

  • is rooted in ageism and neglect
  • doesn’t listen or look to improve
  • provides limited choice to service users
  • is under resourced and makes people wait for services they need now
  • provides deficient care which does not meet community expectations
  • lacks transparency and innovation, and doesn’t welcome criticism
  • is staffed by workers with limited training, skill and support.

The report is particularly damning of government and providers.

It questions whether taxpayers and consumers are getting value for money from the system.

Role of government

Governments of the past 20 years have failed to implement previous inquiries.

This lack of action has contributed to the miserable state of the sector today.

“Many of the cases of deficiencies or outright failings in aged care were known to both the providers concerned and the regulators before coming to public attention. Why has so little been done to address these deficiencies?”

The interim report has highlighted how everyday access to the services has been befuddled by incoherent service systems. Government information portals are more of a barrier than a help to people trying to get aged care and the necessary services.

“A number of people will seek out aged care services, either independently or at the urging of family, friends, doctors and hospitals. Unfortunately, it is at this point, when the aged care system should be welcoming and easy to navigate, that the first problems emerge."

The Federal Health Department came in for special attention over the appalling waiting list for home care packages and lack of due process.

On top of all that, health care services we should all take for granted are just not available.

“Older people and their families often find that their choices are limited by a combination of inflexible system design, lack of services near where they live, and cost.”

Government regulation was also criticised as failing to ensure safety or deter and detect poor practices.

“We have heard evidence which suggests that the regulatory regime that is intended to ensure safety and quality of services is unfit for purpose and does not adequately deter poor practices. Indeed, it often fails to detect them. When it does so, remedial action is frequently ineffective.”

Role of providers

The aged care industry has staunchly defended its independence, but the commission declared it was time for a “reality check.”

“[It] prides itself in being an ‘industry’ and it behaves like one. This masks the fact that 80% of its funding comes directly from Government coffers. Australian taxpayers have every right to expect that a sector so heavily funded by them should be open and fully accountable to the public and seen as a ‘service’ to them.”

Despite some examples of excellence, the sector has failed the community.

Before the commission, it admitted many thousands of incidents of substandard quality, safety and service.

The commission described providers as being culpable and “reluctant to take responsibility for poor care on their watch.”

You can download the Interim Report here.

What happens now?

The Interim Report has made several recommendations for immediate action:

  • more home care packages to cut the long waiting list
  • reign in the overuse of chemical restraints
  • stop young people with a disability going into aged care and expedite getting younger residents out.

“This cruel and harmful system must be changed. Older people deserve so much more.”

The royal commission’s commitment to systemic reform will be the central purpose of its final report, which will be handed to the Governor-General on 12 November 2020.

After initial silence from the government, Prime Minister Scott Morrison and Health Minister Greg Hunt have promised more money for aged care by Christmas.

The Prime Minister told Melbourne radio station 3AW the delayed response was deliberate.

“One of the reasons I have been waiting for this report is because I wanted it to inform the final decisions we were going to make around in-home aged care funding, before we finalise the mid-year (budget) update,” Mr Morrison said.

For many it’s too little, too late.

We were advocating for changes to the aged care system before the royal commission began – and we will continue to demand sensible and urgent reforms of government and the sector.

You can learn more about our aged care campaign below.

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