THE federal government has axed the disgraced national aged care watchdog, the Australian Aged Care Quality Agency.
A damning interim Senate report issued in mid-February into the abuse and neglect of frail, vulnerable dementia patients at the Oakden aged care mental health facility in Adelaide, found the agency failed to detect or act on appalling abuse.
Inquiry members were told of physical and psychological abuse; medication errors including over-sedation; lack of food, poor food quality, and force-feeding to the point of choking; residents left in soiled clothes and not washed; chemical and physical restraints that resulted in residents not exercising and developing bedsores; and worsening health.
The abuse only came to light after the death of former resident Bob Spriggs. An investigation into Oakden by the SA chief psychiatrist led to the state government shutting it down.
Senate inquiry members expressed concerns about the quality agency’s repeated refusal to take responsibility for what occurred at Oakden, despite renewing the facility’s accreditation even after repeated non-compliance at audits over the course of a decade.
Federal Health Minister Ken Wyatt also commissioned an independent review of the nation’s aged care audit system by former ACT chief minister Kate Carnell and Professor Ron Paterson last year. One of that report’s key recommendations – unannounced re-accreditation audits for all aged care facilities – has already been implemented.
At the time of going to press it is understood the agency will be replaced by a commission, reflecting Ms Carnell’s recommendations for an independent aged care quality and safety commission with centralised accreditation, compliance and complaints handling.
Ms Carnell recommended an overarching board under which an aged care commissioner would have control over an aged care quality commissioner, aged care complaints commissioner, aged care consumer commissioner and chief clinical adviser.
Mr Wyatt said the government accepted the broad direction of the Carnell-Paterson review and was considering the remaining recommendations, including the establishment of an independent aged care quality and safety commission to centralise accreditation, compliance and complaints handling.
The minister’s office has not commented further on the quality agency’s axing.
However, in October last year, responding to the Carnell-Paterson review, Mr Wyatt said the health, safety and wellbeing of people in aged care was non-negotiable. He described what happened inside Oakden as “shocking” and said he was “closely and constantly monitoring the quality agency’s work” and receiving regular reports on its compliance activity.
Failure to address "deeply flawed system"
Lynda Saltarelli from advocacy group Aged Care Crisis said she was concerned the minister would uncritically accept the advice of the Carnell report, which she said failed to address a “deeply flawed system”.
“It does not separate oversight and regulation from the problematic accreditation process, which will not be abolished,” she said.
“The system will still have a revolving door and be ‘captive’ to industry and be less motivated to protect residents.
“It will still depend on infrequent and ineffective fly-in fly-out visits to detect problems.”
Ms Saltarelli said published figures showed that in about four years, 1.3 per cent of announced visits identified problems, compared to only 1.5 per cent of unannounced visits – a mere 0.2 per cent increase.
“The claims about unannounced visits are a furphy,” she said.
“Aged Care Crisis urges the government to trial and, if possible, adopt a long term policy of decentralising the management and oversight of aged care and bringing into it local communities starting with an empowered local visitors scheme.