Shocking sexual assault figures as aged care royal commission wraps up

Oct 22, 2020
The aged care inquiry will wrap up this week. Source: Getty (stock image)

The final hearing of the Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety got underway today, and the inquiry heard some shocking figures relating to instances of assault and sexual assault in facilities across Australia.

The statistics were made clear as counsel assisting the commission outlined a total of 124 recommendations to reform aged care in Australia. These recommendations were put forward today ahead of the royal commission’s final report, which is due for publication in February 2021.

“The weight of the evidence before the Commission supports a finding that high quality aged care is not being delivered on a systemic level in our system and the level of substandard care is unacceptable by any measure,” counsel assisting Peter Rozen QC told Commissioners Tony Pagone and Lynelle Briggs. “At least one in five people receiving residential aged care have received substandard care.”

One of the most shocking revelations was that, of the 10,000 public submissions received by the royal commission, half made references to substandard care while 588 contained details of sexual assault. “We are particularly concerned about the number of allegations of sexual assault,” the counsel assisting’s report read.

The report then highlighted that the rate of alleged sexual assaults, classified as the number of reports per 100 residents, almost doubled in the four years between 2014-15 and 2018-19. There were 426 allegations of sexual assault reported to the Australian Department of Health in 2014–15, which increased to 790 in 2018–19.50 This is more than two reports per day on average, every day of the year.

While these figures are shocking enough, Rozen pointed out that they likely understated the true extent of the problem. “Considering 50 per cent of people receiving residential aged care have a diagnosis of dementia, the effect of this exemption is likely to be significant,” he said, adding that the best estimate of incidents of unlawful sexual contact was an average of 50 per week.

“This is a national shame,” he told the inquiry.

In line with the 124 recommendations outlined by counsel, a “number of systemic failures” were highlighted, including a lack of skilled staff, poor planning, poor governance and leadership from providers and a lack of transparency within the sector.

The report also called for those in receipt of aged care services to be placed firmly at “the heart of the new aged care system”. “As a matter of principle, the system must be about the people it is designed to serve,” the report read.

Other recommendations include the establishment of an independent Australian Aged Care Commission responsible for administering and regulating the aged care system, as well as the formation of a new National Cabinet Reform Committee on Ageing and Older Australians by the end of 2022. While the changing preference among ageing Australians to receive adequate care in their own homes was also a focus of the report.

“We recognise that the vast majority of people that need care will want to receive it in their own home. It is a powerful message and one that we have heard,” co-counsel Peter Gray said.

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