Following numerous reports, inquiries, and reviews of the aged care sector over several years, the Government has announced an Aged Care Royal Commission only one day before a damning Four Corners report goes to air.
The Four Corners report will reveal neglect, mistreatment and understaffing in aged care, with personal accounts from nurses, therapists, and consultants who have worked in the industry. The allegations stem from the ABC’s largest ever crowdsourcing exercise; 4,000 people contributed to the report.
But far from being a pre-emptive move to counter a critical television report, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said the necessity of a Royal Commission became apparent to him within his first weeks as Prime Minister.
Mr Morrison said the information he was presented with, which was sourced from government audits and unannounced aged care visits, contained shocking revelations that cases of “noncompliance, abuses and failure of care” in aged care are on the rise.
Mr Morrison said there was a 177 per cent increase in the number of services with ‘serious risk’ identified in the last year, a 292 per cent increase in services with a “significant non compliance”, and one service has been shut down by the Department of Health every month since the Oakden scandal.
Mr Morrison said there have been 154 notices of non compliance, an increase of 185 per cent in the last year, and sanctions are up 136 per cent.
These revelations have impacted around 2,000 aged care residents, of which around 300 have had to find alternative services, said Mr Morrison.
In order to determine “how widespread” the problem is, and whether or not it affected the whole sector, Mr Morrison said he decided that “it was necessary to move forward with a Royal Commission into the aged care sector.”
“I think we should brace ourselves for some pretty bruising information about the way our loved ones, some of them, have experienced some real mistreatment,” he said.
Opposition Leader Bill Shorten said on ABC News this morning that he welcomes the “overdue” look at the aged care sector. But he questioned why his warnings of a “national crisis” in aged care was dismissed by Minister for Aged Care Ken Wyatt as “fearmongering” at the time.
This morning on the Today Show, when Georgie Gardner questioned the Prime Minister on this apparent change of heart by the government. Mr Morrison said, “Whether there is a crisis or not will be determined by the Royal Commission.”
Mr Shorten said the main problems in the aged care sector are not having enough qualified staff, budget cuts to the tune of billions of dollars, and concerns about people being “ripped off” by retirement villages.
This morning, Jim Chalmers, Labor’s Treasury spokesperson, told ABC News the Liberal party had reduced spending on aged care by nearly $2 billion. He said that in the 2015 mid-year update, Scott Morrison said the government will achieve savings of $472.4 million over four years in aged care provider funding. And then in the 2016 budget, Mr Chalmers said the budget paper states the government will achieve efficiencies of $1.2 billion over four years.
But Mr Hunt said the claim that the Liberal party has reduced funding on aged care is incorrect. He said the government added $5 billion to aged care in the last budget, increasing funding from $81.6 billion to $86.6 billion, making an increase of $1 billion a year over the Liberal party’s time in government.
Mr Morrison said the Royal Commission will look into the quality of care in both the government and and non-government aged care sectors, and for young people living in aged care. The Royal Commission is also likely to look at dementia care, and managing an ageing population, and aged care in remote and regional areas.
The timing and the terms of reference have not yet been determined.
The Government’s announcement of a Royal Commission into Aged Care has been broadly welcomed by the industry, but many peak bodies say there have already been numerous reviews of the sector, and many of the measures that need to be undertaken are already well known to the industry.
Annie Butler, Federal Secretary of the Australian Nursing and Midwifery Federation told HelloCare that,“A Royal Commission may be the only way the industry will implement change, despite there being a number of reviews undertaken and recommendations made in recent years.”
“A Royal Commission may be the only way the current Federal Government will feel compelled to act,” she said.
She said the Federation believes that staff ratios must be introduced into aged care, not only for the safety aspect, but also to attract and retain trained nurses to the industry.
“Our members, and the community, know it is minimum ratios that must be implemented. The sector needs to be able to recruit and retain skilled nurses and personal care staff, at the moment it struggles to do that.
“Every day that the Government fails to act on the dangerous understaffing in nursing homes across the country is another day that vulnerable residents are still at risk,” she said.
Ms Butler said nurses often feel “rushed” at work in residential aged care facilities and are “unable to deliver the care they know they should”. She said they are “doing the best they can in almost impossible circumstances.”
The Aged Care Guild also said there have been numerous reviews already of the aged care sector.
“The issues are well-known and many of the answers are already on the table, but comprehensive action by government has not been forthcoming,” said Aged Care Guild CEO Matthew Richter.
“The Aged Care Guild hopes that a Royal Commission will stimulate action and contribute to a shift in Australian political and social ethos toward ageing,” he said.
Leading Age Services Australia CEO Sean Rooney said he hopes the Royal Commission will make the aged care system better in Australia.
“We all want a safe and high quality aged care system. Our older Australians need it and they deserve it,” Mr Rooney said.
Mr Rooney said there is a mismatch between the needs and expectations of older Australians and the wider community, and the services aged care providers are funded to deliver.
“We have repeatedly told Government that the aged care system settings have not kept pace with the increase in demand for care and services, driven by the growing numbers of older Australians in our communities,” he said.
“Whilst recent Governments have made some changes to the aged care system, review after review has been conducted and successive Governments have failed to respond effectively.”
Aged and Community Services Australia, the body for Australia’s not-for-profit aged care sector, said it supports the Government’s decision to hold a Royal Commission.
“The Royal Commission will provide the community with an opportunity to engage in a much-needed, constructive national discussion about the future of aged care, including how as a society we will deliver the quality services our growing ageing population will need and how it will be sustainably funded.”
“As the peak body for not-for-profit aged care providers, we believe the attention a Royal Commission will bring to the sector can be harnessed for the good of all Australians.”