The Australian Law Reform Commission has made 14 recommendations to how alleged assaults are reported in aged care, including setting up a new serious incidents response scheme to replace the current mandatory reporting system.
In a report released last week, they recommended that approved providers be required to report serious incidents of abuse and neglect as well as the outcome of investigations into any incidents to an independent oversight body.
Interestingly, the ALRC also wants the timeframe for reporting a serious incident extended from 24 hours to “as soon as possible, and no later than 30 days” to give providers time to provide a “considered response” to the incident – putting the onus on them to investigate fully.
The changes would also take away the current requirement for providers to report alleged incidents to police, although the ALRC did acknowledge that some allegations of serious crimes would need to be reported to police under criminal laws.
Aged care workers would also have to undergo improved screening, with unregistered staff to be subject to a new National Code of Conduct for Health Care Workers.
Timed with World Elder Abuse Awareness Day on June 15, the report is the result of a 15-month consultation with 117 stakeholders including aged care peak bodies and providers to implement a national plan to tackle elder abuse.
Under the current reporting scheme for aged care, providers have to report any allegations of “reportable assaults” including unlawful sexual contact, unreasonable use of force and assault.
Some resident-on-resident incidents are exempt from the scheme when the offender has a cognitive impairment. Providers also don’t have to record their response to an incident.
If the recommendations are adopted, the ALRC wants the scheme be overseen by the Aged Care Complaints Commissioner – a proposal that has received a “mixed response” from stakeholders, but one the ALRC is firm on.
The scope of “serious incidents” would also be expanded to include physical, sexual and financial abuse; inappropriate, improper or inhumane treatment; unexplained serious injury; and neglect.
When another resident is involved, serious incidents would include sexual abuse, physical abuse causing injury; and incidents that are part of a pattern of abuse.
The ALRC also pointed to the issue of staffing in aged care, noting that inadequate staffing levels could “result in the neglect of care recipients”.
It wants the Dept of Health to conduct a study into staffing levels to determine an “optimum” level of staffing for the sector. Workers would also be subject to a more extensive screening for employment that would look at their criminal history and any records of complaints or incidents.
Restrictive practices would also be more regulated and only be used as a “last resort” with the authorisation of the individual’s guardian or carer.
Aged & Community Services Australia (ACSA) CEO Pat Sparrow said that it was the industry’s responsibility to take the care of its elderly residents seriously, but aged care was already a heavily regulated industry.
“Reporting in and of itself doesn’t ensure better protection,” she said. “Before creating new regulations we need clear evidence that this would provide additional protection whether this be in aged care or in the community where the majority of abuse occurs.”
ACSA wants the ALRC recommendations to be considered under Aged Care Minister Ken Wyatt’s current review into aged care regulations and processes sparked by the shutdown of the Oakden Older Persons Mental Health facility in SA.
The ALRC does note that the issue is a complex one – highlighted by the 432-page length of the report – and one that requires a “multi-faceted” response.
It’s now up to the Govt to decide which of the total of 43 recommendations it will follow through on.
You can read the full report here.