The new Code of Conduct for Aged Care has officially come into effect today, providing aged care workers and providers with a legislated set of guidelines to adhere to while delivering services to older Australians.
The Code resulted from recommendations handed down by the Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety, created as a tool to describe the expected behaviours of aged care organisations and staff.
It aims to improve the safety, health, wellbeing and quality of life of aged care consumers and boost trust in the sector as a whole.
If specified behaviours are not adhered to or aged care consumers are in a position where workers pose an unacceptable risk of harm, the Aged Care Quality and Safety Commission has the power to intervene and take appropriate action.
A draft of the Code was made available in October for public feedback ahead of today’s implementation.
The implementation of a legislated Code of Conduct has been welcomed by industry leaders, including the Aged Care Workforce Industry Council (ACWIC).
ACWIC Chair, Libby Lyons, said the Code was consistent with the existing provider and worker responsibilities, such as the Voluntary Industry Code of Practice, and praised workers who adhere to the appropriate standards.
“This new national Code of Conduct reinforces the expectations of aged care providers, their employees, management teams and Board members, and will improve the safety and quality of care for older people receiving care,” said Ms Lyons.
“The overwhelming majority of care workers live and work to these principles every day, they work in the sector because it is rewarding work that makes a difference in people’s lives.
“Nevertheless, it is in everyone’s interest that workers, executives and directors undertake regular professional development to ensure they are aware of and comply with expected behaviours in the Code.”
Ms Lyons said it will be critical that providers and workers understand the consequences of failing to operate at the required standard.
Any breaches of the Code could result in official investigations or the banning of workers from the aged care sector. A publicly accessible register will be kept by the Commission so banned workers can be identified easily.
Ms Lyons called on the Aged Care Quality and Safety Commission to properly monitor harmful behaviour.
“Success will depend on the Commission being able to strike a balance between encouraging compliance to protect older people from harmful behaviour, and the sensible enforcement of punitive measures.”
Ms Lyons said achieving the right balance would be vital in retaining and attracting staff to the aged care sector.
Other big reform changes that have come into effect today include the extension of Serious Incident Response Scheme (SIRS) into all home care and the strengthening of provider governance to improve provider transparency and accountability.
Under the extended SIRS, home care service providers must adhere to the same standards as aged care providers, which includes reporting incidents of abuse, neglect or theft towards residents.
Unlawful sexual contact or inappropriate sexual conduct has also been elevated to the Priority 1 SIRS reportable incidents category official under law. A provider must report an incident within 24 hours of being notified.
Meanwhile, new provider governance requirements mean approved providers must set up a governing body and quality care advisory body, commencing from 1 December 2023, to ensure compliance through self-monitoring of the quality of care provided to residents.
Providers that apply for approval after today must comply from the day approval is granted. Approved providers must also annually assess key personnel against the ‘suitability matters’ specified in the Aged Care Quality and Safety Commission Act 2018.
The Code impacts residential aged care staff, home care and flexible care workers – such as workers in the Transition Care Program and Short-Term Restorative Care Program. Volunteers and contracted or sub-contracted staff are also covered under this Code.
It does not apply to Commonwealth Home Support Programme (CHSP) and the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Flexible Aged Care Program (NATSIFACP), although the Government has reinforced it expects the same behaviour standards to be adhered to by workers in these programs.
In the Code, there are eight overarching elements for expected behaviours when providing care. You are expected to:
Examples of expected behaviours include respecting social or cultural backgrounds, providing informed choices to consumers and being aware of situations that may hurt or upset someone.