Sep 12, 2019

ABC turns spotlight on Bupa’s failings


The ABC will tonight air a report on the multitude of failings at Australia’s largest for-profit aged care provider, Bupa.

ABC investigative journalist, Anne Connolly, and a team of reporters has analysed the Australian Aged Care Quality and Safety Commission’s audit reports for Bupa, and found a litany of problems among the operator’s 72 aged care facilities.

In the last year, 45 Bupa facilities have failed to meet all quality standards, 22 have been found to have put residents at “serious risk”, 13 have been sanctioned, and five facilities have been threatened with having their accreditation revoked.

Bupa’s quality failures extend to lapses in pain management, clinical care, medication management, skin care, behavioral management and regulatory compliance, among other things.

Bupa’s woes extend beyond its failures in care. After the Tax Justice Network investigated the use of profit shifting by aged care providers, Bupa was forced to pay the Australian Tax Office $157 million.

On another front, the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission is taking Bupa to court for ‘false and misleading advertising’ after it failed to deliver additional services – such as massages, physio, and improved meals – it promised residents. Bupa is in the process of refunding the charges, but the ACCC court action is expected to be heard later this year.

Report will air on 7.30 tonight

Bupa has issued statements from both its chief executive officer and managing director ahead of the ABC report, which is being aired on the flagship 7.30 news program tonight.

Bupa CEO, Hisham El-Ansary, who was only appointed earlier this year, said this company is “deeply sorry” for its failings in care, and has committed to making the “necessary improvements to put things right”.

“We don’t always get things right,” he conceded.

He said the company has employed a new managing director of aged care, and has increased the number of staff in quality care, clinical services and training. 

“I can assure you that we are absolutely committed to addressing those problems as effectively and quickly as we can,” he said.

Mr El-Ansary said, “We have nine homes that are sanctioned by the regulator and three of those homes have already passed their auditing process and we’ve got applications to remove sanctions from those. So, I expect in the near term that we’ll have six homes under sanction, which is still six too many and it’s my expectation and my ambition that we will have all of our homes operating effectively the end of this year.”

Australian business was being operated from New Zealand

The newly appointed managing director of aged care, Suzanne Dvorak, said, “I think that we have absolutely acknowledged our faults in this, and we have said sorry to those relatives and to those residents who live with us.”

She said a number of changes have been made within the organisation. 

Australia Aged Care, a business with 9,000 staff and 72 aged care facilities, was being managed from New Zealand, but is now being managed from within Australia. 

The organisation has also flattened its reporting hierarchy, and has instigated a process of regular audits.

Ms Dvorak admitted Bupa “failed to listen in a timely manner” and “failed to act quickly enough”.

Tougher penalties needed

Lynda Saltarelli, a volunteer member of the Aged Care Crisis team, told HelloCare she though it was unlikely Bupa would be able to successfully turn its quality of care around.

“Given the large amount of failures and severity of failures that have occurred, it is difficult to trust a provider that has failed so many of its residents,” she said.

She said Aged Care Crisis would like to see tougher penalties for operators that fail to do the right thing. 

“We would like to see penalties or large fines implemented. The current practice of withdrawal of funding for new residents only whilst under sanction, is not a deterrent,” she said.

Ms Saltarelli said having a single provider in this situation was a “major weakness” in Australia’s aged care system that “needs urgent attention”.  

When Bupa first entered the Australian market, Aged Care Crisis lodged an objection with the Department of Health. We “suggested that Bupa was not the sort of organisation that should be entrusted with responsibility for care in such a vulnerable sector”, Ms Saltarelli told HelloCare.

This article was edited on 13 September 2019.

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