‘A shocking tale of neglect’: Aged care royal commission releases interim report

Oct 31, 2019
The Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety released its interim report today. Source: Getty.

The Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety released its interim report today, branding the system “unfair, unsafe and neglectful”. Titled ‘Neglect’, the report calls for fundamental changes to the way aged care is handled across Australia as well as revealing the extent of its failures.

Just weeks after the sad death of royal commissioner Richard Tracey, the Interim Report of the Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety was tabled in parliament on Thursday afternoon, laying bare the extent to which the system fails to support some of the country’s most vulnerable residents.

“The neglect that we have found in this Royal Commission, to date, is far from the best that can be done,” it reads. “Rather, it is a sad and shocking system that diminishes Australia as a nation.”

The scathing report covers the royal commission’s work over its first year, since its establishment was announced just over one year ago, however not all of the details have been included as much of the detail will be included in the final report, which is due to be published in April 2020.

Although it will come as no surprise to anyone who has followed some of the shocking cases and reports that have emerged throughout the commission over the past nine months, the report outlines the need for serious reform across the aged care sector. The three-volume publication stresses that “a fundamental overhaul of the design, objectives, regulation and funding of aged care in Australia is required”.

The foreword of the report states: “As a nation, Australia has drifted into an ageist mindset that undervalues older people and limits their possibilities. Sadly, this failure to properly value and engage with older people as equal partners in our future has extended to our apparent indifference towards aged care services.

“Left out of sight and out of mind, these important services are floundering. They are fragmented, unsupported and underfunded. With some admirable exceptions, they are poorly managed. All too often, they are unsafe and seemingly uncaring. This must change.”

Royal commissioners Lynelle Briggs and the late Richard Tracey also identified three areas where immediate action can be taken to improve the sector, which were; increasing the number of home care packages to reduce the waiting list for those requiring higher level care, responding to the over-reliance on chemical restraint in aged care and stopping the flow of younger people with a disability going into aged care.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced the establishment of the royal commission in October last year after a government audit revealed that one aged care service has been closed by the Department of Health per month since the notorious Oakden facility in Adelaide was shut in 2017. So far, the public inquiry has looked at the quality of care provided to senior Australians in residential and home aged care, as well as young Australians with disabilities living in residential aged care settings, including all forms of abuse.

Some of the shocking details to have emerged throughout the royal commission include elderly patients who were found with maggots in their wounds, as well as the shocking use of chemical restraints. In fact, a recent report released earlier this month found that dementia patients in aged care facilities across the country are being given dangerous medication without their consent in a bid to control their behaviour.

Chronic understaffing and inadequate training around dementia support were blamed for the normalisation of chemical restraint in the report released by the Human Rights Watch, which claimed it’s almost impossible for aged care workers to take an individualised approach when it comes to caring for those with the condition.

As part of the report, family members, doctors, nurses and advocates were interviewed about the processes in place in facilities throughout Queensland, Victoria and New South Wales, with 35 found to “routinely” sedate patients. In all three states, shocking cases of chemical restraint were revealed with some relatives of dementia patients even claiming they were unaware of the medications being given to their loved ones until they received pharmacy bills.

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