10 July 2019

Royal Commission breaking new ground

Early signs from the Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety give cause for optimism. The Commission began with an iron fist in a velvet glove, adopting a valuable early tactic employed by the Banking Royal Commission. Providers were requested to submit all their cases of substandard care including cases of mistreatment and all forms of abuse since July 2013. This has provided a mine of pertinent information able to be compared with official records.

Providers were left in no doubt that, if necessary, the Commission would exercise its coercive powers and expected them to waive confidentiality clauses in any agreements they may have reached with consumers.

By the time the Commissioners were heading to the west and north of Australia in June and July, some 97 witnesses had given evidence. They included 9 managers, 13 public servants, 16 relatives, 10 employees, 3 residents, 5 home care consumers and 3 GPs.

What was not new from the witness stand were the haunting accounts by relatives of abuse and inadequate health care. What was new was the appearance of providers and managers being subject to forensic, and at times searing, questioning about the quality of care they had provided. Some were in denial and some even defiant. Some however were contrite and this at least, perhaps augurs well. The inclination of the Commission to scrutinise work practices such as staff handovers, decisions on medication and physical restraint, assistance with feeding, the dynamics of doctors visits, the use of care plans and the like is welcome, compelling and long overdue.

The phenomenon of providers under fire in public is testimony to the unique powers of a royal commission. If the resolve shown to date in the words of Counsel Assisting and by the Commissioners themselves, translates into operational recommendations for concrete, prompt action, rare in past aged care inquiry reports, then there is indeed reason for optimism for elders needing care.

Date Published: July 2019