The Department of Health was notified of 5,233 assaults in aged care facilities in 2018-19, an increase of 1,220 incidents, or 30 per cent, for the year.
By comparison, there were 4,013 assaults reported in 2017-18.
Over the last two years assault are up 80%, a “shocking” statistic, said The Hon Julie Collins MP, Shadow Minister for Ageing and Seniors. The department was notified of 2,853 assaults in residential aged care in 2016-17.
The figures are “deeply disturbing” and reveal the extent of the aged care crisis in Australia, Ms Collins said.
“These figures shame us as a nation,” she said, and called on the government to implement a serious incident response scheme, as recommended in the Carnell-Paterson Review, a review by the Australian Law Reform Commission, and a recent report by KPMG.
“Despite the scheme being first recommended more than two years ago, the Morrison Government is still yet to implement it,” Ms Collins said.
Leading Age Services Australia general manager policy and advocacy, Tim Hicks, told HelloCare, “Elder abuse is a serious issue and needs to be given greater attention across the community.’
Reportable assaults are, in the main, perpetrated by staff or visitors, he said.
“Staff on resident assaults are never acceptable and are a crucial reason that LASA supports a national registration scheme for all aged care workers,” he said.
Increases in reportable incidents are likely to reflect additional reporting “rather than an actual change in the number of assaults,” Mr Hicks said, “noting that the reporting obligation covers suspicions and allegations of assault, as well as confirmed incidents.”
The key to reporting assaults is ensuring there is an “appropriate response from the service, regulator and other authorities such as the police”, Mr Hicks said.
“Many Members tell us that they have reported assaults against residents to the local police only to have the police take no further action,” he said.
There were 4,443 “alleged or suspected uses of unreasonable force” reported last year, and 739 alleged or suspected reports of “unlawful sexual contact”, which consists of “sexual contact with residents where there has been no consent”.
The department also stated there were 51 reports of incidents that classified as both use of unreasonable force and unlawful sexual contact.
The previous year 3,773 assaults were reported, with 3,226 violent attacks, and 513 sexual assaults. A total of 34 incidents classified as both.
The number of reported sexual assaults in aged care rose 44 per cent over the year.
Catherine Barrett, director Celebrate Ageing, told HelloCare the sexual assault figures are “a clear demonstration we have a problem and we are not doing enough, or anything, to prevent it”.
Earlier this week, Ms Barrett attended a round table hosted by Greens Senator Rachel Siewert on Sexual Assault of Older Women. Ms Barrett’s Celebrate Ageing and the Australian Association of Gerontology have developed a strategy to improve responses to and prevent the sexual assault of older people, including those living in residential aged care.
Ms Barrett said it was disappointing the interim report of the Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety barely mentioned sexual assault in aged care. “It’s outrageous. In the interim report there’s almost no reference to sexual assault, it’s not addressed,” she said.
Aged and Community Services Australia CEO, Pat Sparrow, said, “The increase in reportable assaults is likely to be a result of improved reporting, and overall having this better reporting is a good thing. Assaults are never okay, whomever the victim.”
“Elder abuse is too widespread,” she said, “it happens in every social, economic and cultural setting.
“At the very core of elder abuse is the loss of dignity and basic human rights, and it is a scourge on society.”
“ACSA supports the transfer of reporting to the Aged Care Quality & Safety Commission and the work currently underway to develop a new serious incident reporting scheme,” Ms Sparrow said.
“There are many things providers can, and are, doing to bring down the number of assaults in aged care. These range from strong checking of suitability for individuals to work in aged care, creating a culture that encourages reporting of concerns, whether that be of a worker or a family member, and providing ongoing training and education to all staff,” she said.
The increased number of assaults is not simply the result of higher numbers living in residential aged care. The rate of assaults in aged care also increased.
With 242,612 people living in residential aged care in 2018–19, the rate of suspected or alleged assaults was 2.16 per cent. That compares with 241,723 residents in 2017-18 and a rate of 1.6 per cent.
The actual number of assaults in aged care may be higher, as assaults committed by a resident with a previously diagnosed cognitive or mental impairment do not have to be reported to the Department of Health.
The number of ‘unexplained absences’ also rose during with year, with 1,514 reported in 2018-19 compared with 1,450 reported the previous year.