Aged care secrecy needs urgent reform

Did you know that government funded aged care homes which hide information about complaints, assaults and neglect, are protected by the law?

There are secrecy provisions in the Aged Care Act that make it a criminal offence to disclose information without the provider’s permission.

Aged care royal commission witness accounts of their unsuccessful attempts to get information have sparked calls for greater transparency.

Providers have been urged to act now regarding transparency, while the government has been told to get ahead of the game and reform the law.

What we know

The commission was told that more than 3,700 assaults were reported in 2017-18.

That figure is likely an understatement, the commission has heard, because it excludes incidents where a resident has a mental impairment.

A News Corp report of one man’s attempts to get information makes for sober reading.

Superannuants Association of NSW policy manager Paul Versteege made a Freedom of Information request to the Federal Department of Health seeking data on assaults in the Gold Coast area. He chose the Gold Coast because of the large number of aged care homes.

Mr Versteege didn’t bother trying to get figures on individual facilities because such information is not available unless volunteered by the operator.

The Department told him no document existed containing the information he sought. And even if it did, it was exempt from the FOI Act due to the “secrecy provisions contained in Division 86”.

Persistence pays

His appeal was rejected, but as an expert in FOI he went to the Office of the Australian Information Commissioner and succeeded.

He found that two per cent of nursing home residents had been victims of sexual or serious physical assault. That was just the reported rate and did not shed light on which homes were most dangerous and which were safest.

What can you do to find out about assaults and neglect?

Mr Versteege suggests you visit the home and ask.

“If you can’t get an answer, that in itself is very telling,” he says.

Older Persons Advocacy Network CEO Craig Gear cautions that a low number may not be a great indicator.

“Serious incidents should be transparent, as should use of physical and chemical restraint,” he says.

“But you don’t want a system that stops people speaking up. Action is just as important as the notification.”

Help us push for immediate reform

Stay up to date with the Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety and help us continue the campaign for immediate action and improvements within the sector.

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