Jan 03, 2024

Aged care assault numbers on the rise in New South Wales

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The number of assaults reported in NSW aged care homes has tripled over the past decade. [Source: Shutterstock]

Recent data provided to the ABC reveals police are visiting an average of 12 aged care homes each day in New South Wales as the number of assaults in NSW residential care reached a decade-high mark.

Key points

  • There were 901 assault incidents reported in NSW-based homes in 2022-23, compared to 318 in 2013-14
  • The introduction of SIRS in 2021 has resulted in a growing number of reportable incident notifications across all States and Territories with a total of 12,885 incidents reported between April – June 2023
  • Reportable incidents include the unreasonable use of force, neglect, inappropriate sexual conduct and stealing by a staff member
  • Reporting responsibilities have likely influenced the higher number of reported assaults, however, experts also believe that actual assaults have also risen

A higher number of reported incidents is in some ways a positive under SIRS as it shows the Scheme is doing its job by highlighting abuse, neglect and crime within aged care settings. 

“The increase does seem to be related to an increase in reporting of criminal incidents occurring in aged care facilities,” Jackie Fitzgerald, Executive Director at the Bureau Of Crime Statistics And Research, told ABC.

However, the growing number of reportable incidents leaves the sector in a poor position as it highlights an ugly side of aged care. 

NSW Police would not provide details on exact reasons for visiting an aged care home, but according to information gathered by the ABC, NSW Police attended 4,654 incidents at aged care homes in 2022-23 with an average of 12 visits per day.

This included incidents such as Clare Nowland’s where the 95-year-old resident with dementia was tasered by police and later died in hospital. 

Ms Nowland was unfortunately experiencing symptoms of dementia at the time, a common occurrence in aged care settings where many residents live with cognitive decline and behavioural changes. 

Professor Brian Draper from the School of Medicine & Health and the University of NSW, told ABC that the number of residents with high needs has grown over the past decade, resulting in more serious incidents in residential care settings. 

“Within the residential aged care sector, we’ve got a greater concentration of those who have the highest level of needs. That in itself means that there is greater pressure upon staff to look after these residents,” he said.

Meanwhile, Professor Lee-Fay Low, an expert in Ageing and Health at The University of Sydney, said high workforce turnover and a lack of training for newer staff may result in residents becoming aggressive.

“Imagine if someone was trying to get you to go to the toilet, take your pants off, have a shower. If that’s not managed well, then you’re going to kick, punch, hit that person,” said Professor Low.

Instead of pressing residents to do something, she said it’s always best to alert a more experienced staff member or clinician when a resident is showing aggressive behaviours. Contacting the police should only be a last resort.

When asked about the likely offenders, Ms Fitzgerald said the data does not indicate that carers, family members or aged care staff are the leading culprits for reportable incidents.

“We don’t have many offender details recorded, so it’s hard to know for sure. Staff don’t seem to be the main offenders. I think we’d have reasonable records if that was the case,” she added.

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  1. It concerns me that they are not recording offender data especially if the offender is a staff member.
    To say, ‘I THINK we’d have reasonable records if that was the case’ is not good enough.

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