That’s nearly 25 instances of unlawful sexual contact or inappropriate sexual conduct every week.
In total, the Aged Care Quality and Safety Commission received 4,496 notifications through the new Serious Incident Response Scheme (SIRS) from aged care providers between 1 April to 12 May 2021.
LASA General Manager Policy and Advocacy, Tim Hicks, told HelloCare the new SIRS has only been in place for a short time so “it is to be expected” there would be an “initial spike” in the number of incidents reported as a result of uncertainty about definitions.
“Providers tell us they are erring on the side of caution in ensuring they meet the requirements or face significant penalties for not reporting,” he said.
The most common priority 1 notifications received were for unreasonable use of force (778 incidents) and neglect (448).
“Concerned” about level of sexual assault in aged care
Last month, Aged Care Quality and Safety Commissioner Janet Anderson told a Senate estimates hearing, “We have never been anything other than concerned about the level of reported sexual assault in residential aged care” when asked about 108 causes of unlawful or inappropriate sexual conduct occurring in the first month on the SIRS.
Now, with the data updated, it appears the situation is only more dire.
16 investigations conducted
The commission assesses every notification within 24 hours for any risk to residents. In cases where the commission determines “immediate action” is required to “respond to and mitigate risk to consumers” and where there is a question over the “provider’s compliance with its responsibilities”, then the commission will conduct an investigation.
There were 16 investigations conducted between 1 April and 12 May 2021.
New figures are “concerning”
Hicks said complying with the new SIRS has been “frustrating” for providers because they have had “very little time to understand and implement” the scheme.
Providers would like more granular information about what is occurring in homes, so they can benchmark and improve their processes, he said.
“While the figures are concerning and compel further investigation, they do not give a true understanding of what is actually occurring, and without knowing what is going on it is difficult to say exactly what needs to change.”
“At an individual incident level, providers analyse the cause and discuss,” he said.
Hicks said LASA will discuss with members the common themes being reported, any causes that are identified, and actions that can be taken.
SIRS to include priority 2 from October
Most incidents not classified as priority 1, the commission classifies as priority 2, and they will have to be reported from 1 October 2021.
According to the commission’s website, an example of a priority 2 incident is one where a resident fell while walking in the garden of an aged care home. The person did not fall due to the use of force and there was no indication of neglect or that the service failed to provide care or support in line with the resident’s assessed needs and preferences.
Where to now?
Anderson told HelloCare, “It is always concerning to receive reports of serious incidents in aged care – regardless of the number.
“A key part of SIRS is the requirement for providers to have in place an effective incident management system to reduce the likelihood of injuries and other incidents impacting consumers, and to respond appropriately to incidents if and when they occur.
“The preventative benefits of SIRS are expected to grow over time, as services analyse their own incident data, identify systemic, and controllable risks to consumer safety, health and wellbeing, and take targeted action to mitigate these risks.”
But with the new reporting system revealing sexual misconduct, rough handling and neglect are still alarmingly common occurrences in aged care, rather offering up a solution, the new SIRS is simply ringing alarm bells more loudly.