Concerns of ‘lack of will’ from the government to fix aged care

By Tony Zhang|27 October 2020
Catherine Henry

With more cracks in revealed Australia’s “broken” aged care system from the aged care royal commission, there are concerns that there will be a lack of will from the government to implement changes in the aged sector, according to one lawyer.

As the Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety wrapped up its hearings, aged care lawyer and advocate on aged care reform, Catherine Henry, said the comprehensive, integrated suite of recommendations submitted by counsel assisting, Peter Rozen SC and Peter Gray QC, goes a long way to addressing the crisis in aged care.

Ms Henry, who is also the Australian Lawyers Alliance national spokesperson on aged care, is concerned about the federal government’s lack of will and sense of urgency to implement real reform, which means more older Australians will needlessly suffer or die.

During the final two days of hearings held by the commission on 22-23 October 22, counsel assisting submitted a lengthy list of 123 recommendations.

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Ms Henry said she’s pleased to see that the recommendations addressed fundamental root cause problems for the sector such as legislation, governance, regulation, public availability of aged care provider performance against benchmark quality indicators as well as minimum staffing, improved pay for aged care workers, and workforce training.

These are the issues Ms Henry has been consistently advocating and were central to her statement to the royal commission during its public workshop in Newcastle in November 2019. 

“The first recommendation is for a new Aged Care Act to replace the one that was written by the sector for the sector back in 1997,” Ms Henry said.

“When the government introduced the Act it was clear its motive was about containing costs of care as opposed to, needs based, quality care.”

However, Ms Henry said despite more than 20 inquiries into aged care in the 20-plus years since the act was introduced, the legislation has nothing to say about regulation. 

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“Experts and advocates, backed by the latest research released by the royal commission on Wednesday (21 October), shows the current regulator is an ineffective, toothless tiger,” she said.

“The proposal to have a new Australian Aged Care Commission independent of Ministerial influence, as well as an independent Inspector General responsible for implementing reforms and monitoring the performance of the new Aged Care Commission, provides proper accountability and effectiveness on behalf of aged care recipients, their families, and the Australian public.

“The current Australian Quality and Safety Commission is an agency of the Commonwealth Health Department.”

Research conducted by the National Ageing Research Institute (NARI) for the royal commission found only 25 per cent of Australians receiving aged care at home or in a facility believed their needs were being met. 

Fewer than 1 per cent of concerns by older Australians about substandard aged care were officially raised with the current watchdog, the Aged Care Safety and Quality Commission, because people thought there was no point in doing so. 

The Governance Institute of Australia has also backed calls for a new governance standard for the aged care sector following the release of 124 recommendations on Thursday by the lawyers assisting the Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety.

Commissioner Tony Pagone QC said it was important the system was overhauled and aged care was reformed.

“What we don’t want this commission to do is to bring about changes but for things to remain the same,” he said.

Ms Henry’s firm, based in regional NSW, handles many cases for residents and families who experience poor care or negligence in aged care facilities as well as support for those entering into accommodation contracts with aged care providers. 

She said that the government’s poor response to aged care in the recent budget and to countless other reports, causes concern about how long it will take for the government to act on the royal commission’s findings and reports.

“Counsel assisting has correctly recommended that some of the initiatives it has put forward be implemented even before the Royal Commission’s final report is released (due February 2021),” she said.

“The Government appears to be content to wait to act until after the Commission’s report is released in February 2021. Meanwhile, older Australians are suffering and at risk in aged care facilities and those caring for them face an uphill battle to provide appropriate care.”

Concerns of ‘lack of will’ from the government to fix aged care
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