Nov 04, 2019

Aged care complaints up by one third

The aged care regulator has seen a spike in complaints as the media and the royal commission put the sector under intense scrutiny.

Increased complaints will come as no surprise to those who follow the sector.

Only last week, the Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety in their interim report revealed that providers self-reported nearly 80,000 complaints about substandard care in the five years to June 2018. 

Of those complaints, 15,700 were about personal care, 8,800 were about compromises to an older person’s dignity, and 7,500 were about a lack of choice and control for the people receiving aged care services.

Complaints up 36%

It seems the number of complaints about aged care services is still rising. 

In the Aged Care Quality and Safety Commission’s 2018-19 annual report, it was revealed that the number of complaints received by the regulator jumped 36 per cent in the year 2018-19.

There were 7,828 complaints received during the year, up from 5,738 complaints the previous year.

Complaints rose most strongly in second half of year

The annual reports break the 2018-19 complaints numbers down into two halves, to reflect the periods before and after the establishment of the new Quality and Safety Commission, revealing that complaints climbed 17 per cent in the second half.

There were 3,608 complaints lodged with the commission in the first half of the year, compared with 4,220 complaints lodged in the second half.

A total of 73 per cent –  or 5,748 – of the complaints were about residential aged care. Only 20 per cent, or 1,552, of the complaints were about home care, and 6 per cent, or 451, related to CHSP. The commission received 77 complaints about flexible care.

Janet Anderson PSM, Aged Care Quality and Safety Commissioner, told HelloCare, “There could be several reasons why the number of complaints received about aged care services increased in 2018-19, and particularly from January. 

“The media coverage given to the establishment of the Aged Care Quality and Safety Commission would likely have raised public awareness of the opportunity to have their complaints looked into. The work of the Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety and the ongoing attention that its hearings have received is likely to be another contributing factor which has also led to increased public scrutiny of aged care more broadly. 

Growth in complaints is easing

Ms Anderson told HelloCare the growth in complaints is easing.

“The Commission’s most recent data on the volume of complaints, which will be published in coming weeks, suggests that while the number of new complaints received continues to be higher than for the previous quarter, the growth trend is easing,” she said.

Medication management the common complaint

Medication management remained the most complained about aspect of aged care during the year. There were 1,077 complaints are medication management. 

There were 723 complaints about falls prevention and post-fall management, 715 complaints about staff adequacy and numbers, 683 complaints about personal and oral hygiene, and 517 complaints about continence management.

For home care packages, the most common complaint was fees and charges (399).

These trends remain largely consistent between 2017-18 and 2018-19.

“Complaints system hard to access, slow to act, and unresponsive”

The commissioners were scathing about the systems in place to deal with complaints and providers’ willingness to address issues raised.

“Complaints… often go unanswered,” the interim report states. 

“Many people have told us that the complaints system is hard to access, slow to act and often effectively unresponsive to the concerns of the complainant.”

When people complain about aged care services, care staff often respond with retribution, the commissioners wrote.

“Several submissions have highlighted occasions where the treatment of the older person deteriorated after complaints from family members—with neglect transforming into the withholding of care.

“It is disturbing that the aged care sector is not sufficiently mature or professional to listen to feedback from those who use and observe its services at close hand, particularly when the regulatory system appears so distant and ineffectual.” 

As a result, people sometimes make the decision not to complain.

“People become unwilling to complain for fear that care will become worse, as they or their family member will be labelled as ‘difficult’ by the provider,” the commissioners said.

Complaints “a window” into care practices

Complaints could be viewed as a useful tool in the aged care system – “a window into care practices”, according to the interim report. Complaints will reveal where problems lie, and, with the right systems, attitudes and open communication, reveal clues as to how to fix them.

For consumers, we should know which operators have had complaints made against them. The fact that complaints about providers are not made public contributes to the lack of transparency that plagues the sector.

For providers, being willing to confront the issues raised in complaints is vital. Left unattended, problems raised by complaints in aged care will not solve themselves, the situation will only fester and worsen. 

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