Big agenda to be set for aged-care inquiry
REACTION to the announcement by Prime Minister Scott Morrison, Health Minister Greg Hunt and Aged Care and Seniors Minister Ken Wyatt for a royal commission into aged care demonstrates both the complexity and degree of difficulty in this endeavour.
The Government proposes examination of residential and home aged care, which was welcomed by the community, especially those directly involved in delivering these services at a cost of $18.6 million.
Everyone is aware of the problems in these sectors, which have been aired time and time again during the past few years. The Courier-Mail has been at the forefront of much of this reporting, although we acknowledge the work of other media outlets in exposing unacceptable failures and corrupt practices. The shocking litany of behaviour and appalling service includes maggots in food, mattresses covered in faeces, wrong doses of medication, staff slapping and injuring patients, pain-management failures, and, in extreme cases, suspicious deaths.
There’s no doubt these circumstances and cases need investigating and a royal commission has been needed for some time as bureaucratic checks and inquiries have been shown to be inadequate and systemically faulty.
As much as any of the groups or individuals involved in the aged-care sector cheered the Government’s announcement, they also wanted additional emphasis on their own particular concern or felt something was missing from the proposed action.
A number of groups wanted the needs of elderly Australians with disabilities to be covered, even though the Government singled this group out in its announcement (including younger disabled people in residential care) – as the ministers did for those suffering from dementia.
Another important focus of the royal commission will be what happens as demographics change, especially in remote, rural and regional Australia.
One aspect of how older Australians are let down that is not specifically mentioned in the announcement, but will almost certainly be raised once the royal commission gets under way, is financial abuse of the elderly.
We have already seen in the finance sector royal commission that institutions have taken advantage of many older Australians. Unfortunately, there are also many cases of family and friends preying on the elderly.
A further aspect of aged care not mentioned in the announcement is retirement villages that may be covered primarily by the states, but need examination given a history of neglect and abuse in some cases.
All of these issues must also be examined when the royal commission gets under way.
Perhaps the most shocking example of aged-care service failure has been the sorry tale of the Oakden facility in Adelaide, South Australia, which was closed a year ago next week.
This home suffered with untrained staff, residents who were denied proper nourishment and horrifying examples of poorly administered medicines and a lack of general hygiene. Since Oakden was closed, the Health Department has closed an aged-care facility every month and an increasing number have been put under sanction to improve care.
We shouldn’t lose sight of the fact that, as Mr Morrison said yesterday, Australia has some of the best agedcare facilities and services in the world. However, there are still too many failures and an unacceptable number of residents who do not receive adequate or appropriate care.
These are among the most vulnerable people in our society and need action – much of which is already happening, but requires an improved and enhanced effort. At the same time, we must have a thorough examination of the sector to uncover the shortcomings and get a clear-headed view of what’s needed for a sustainable and affordable level of service.
We also have to plan for the future because of the rapidly changing nature of our society. The population is growing faster than was anticipated just a few decades ago. On top of that, the Baby Boomer generation is arriving in the system in growing numbers and will demand more specific attention based on particular needs.
The last thing to be said is that the care of elderly Australians is too important to get bogged down in a political shouting match.