Big agenda to be set for aged-care in­quiry

The Courier-Mail - - LETTERS -

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.

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