A record number of grievances were reported to Australia’s aged care complaints service last financial year.
As plans get under way for a royal commission into the troubled industry, the Aged Care Complaints Commissioner 2017-2018 Annual Report, recently tabled in Parliament, has revealed a 23 per cent increase in the number of complaints received from concerned residents, family members, staff and other members of the community.
The commissioner investigated 5779 complaints during the year, referring more than 1000 to the Australian Aged Care Quality Agency – the organisation that accredits new nursing homes and inspects existing facilities to ensure they meet accreditation standards.
Residential care was the subject of 75 per cent of complaints (4315) compared with 78 per cent last year.
Eighteen per cent of complaints were about home care packages (1014) and 7 per cent were about the Commonwealth Home Support Program (406), compared with 15 per cent and 7 per cent respectively last year. There were 44 complaints about flexible care.
Medication administration and management (706) and personal and oral hygiene (473) were the top two complaints from residential aged care, followed for the first time in the top three by staffing numbers and ratios (452).
The most common issues complained about for home care were fees and charges (336), lack of consultation and communication (167) and communication about fees and charges (144). These were also the top three issues in complaints about home care last year.
For the home support program, the most common complaints related to fees and charges (98), lack of consultation and communication (80) and communication about fees and charges (51).
The commissioner, which has about 170 staff based in Adelaide, Brisbane, Canberra, Hobart, Melbourne and Perth, finalised 5738 complaints, an increase of 24 per cent from the 4617 complaints finalised in the previous year. This year, 4185 (73 per cent) were finalised within 30 days and 5330 (93 per cent) within 90 days.
The greatest number of complaints were from NSW (1831) followed by Victoria (1581), Queensland (1310), South Australia (491), Western Australia (321), Tasmania (112), ACT (88) and Northern Territory (43).
“Record numbers of people have sought our help to resolve concerns about aged care this year,” said commissioner Rae Lamb.
“We have seen particularly marked growth in the number of people coming to us with complaints about care delivered in their homes. These now account for around one in four complaints.”
Ms Lamb said it was not surprising that aged care complaints continued to increase because more and more people are receiving care, particularly in their own homes.
“We are now two-and-a-half years old and have worked hard at increasing our visibility,” she said.
“Providing independence and putting a ‘face’ to aged care complaints (a commissioner) has helped. We have a very clear identity. And it’s been a year where there has been significant public attention and concern about aged care.
“I am the first to agree that there are people who still don’t know about us and that some people feel too vulnerable to raise concerns. But the numbers speak for themselves. They show that more people are speaking out when they have concerns about care, and that more people know about us and where to go with unresolved concerns about aged care.
“This report also shows that despite the big increase in our workload, the vast majority of complaints to us continue to be resolved relatively quickly, working informally and co-operatively with complainants and service providers using what we call ‘early resolution’.
“It also shows that complaint issues can usually be closed on the basis that they have been resolved to the complainant’s satisfaction.”
Ms Lamb said last year she had publicly challenged aged care providers to be more open about complaints and how they respond to them so people could be more confident about raising concerns.
“This year we have focused on getting that message to the boards that govern aged care services,” she said.
“I have met with several of the boards of big aged care service providers. So far at least one organisation has told us it is planning to publish more complaints information on its website as a result of the challenge. Others are still considering it.”
In January next year the Complaints Commissioner and the Quality Agency will join to form the Aged Care Quality and Safety Commission.
Senior Australians and Aged Care Minister Ken Wyatt said he was confident the new commission would better target sub-standard care. “It will be a central point to identify failures, highlight quality concerns and have them quickly rectified.”