The Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety began in Adelaide on Friday, as Royal Commissioners Richard Tracey and Lynelle Briggs outlined the intentions of the public inquiry which will conclude with the delivery of a final report of recommendations in April 2020.
Speaking at the preliminary hearing, which was held in Adelaide’s Commonwealth Law Court, the two royal commissioners confirmed that they will do everything they can to ensure elderly, frail and vulnerable Australians receive the best possible care now and in the future.
“The hallmark of civilised society is how they treat the most vulnerable people,” Commissioner Tracey said. “Frail and elderly members of the community deserve to, and should, be looked after in the best possible way and we intend to do our best to see that it happens.”
As the commission progresses, evidence will be heard from those receiving care through aged care services, as well as family members, regulators, staff and aged care providers.
It was also revealed that requests for information were distributed to a total of 1,982 aged care providers in November last year. However, Senior Counsel Assisting Peter Grey confirmed that just 83 of those have responded to date, accounting for 2,000 outlets and services within the sector.
He added that the majority of reported complaints related to the quality of care in residential facilities. While other incidents reported to the commission so far include elder abuse, medication mismanagement, food safety, inadequate wound management leading to death and record keeping.
Addressing the commission on Friday morning, Grey added: “Some older Australians are frail and vulnerable, some lack family or other support. An inquiry of this kind is of great importance to them, we wish for their voices to be heard and listened to.
“Older Australians have shaped today’s Australia, they deserve our respect and the best care we can give them – there is evidence they are currently not getting it. Our elderly deserve compassionate, high quality and safe care, that is protective of their wellbeing and respects their dignity.”
Commissioner Tracey also confirmed that public hearings will be held in each capital city across Australia, as well as in several regional centres, in order to hear from a wide range of people whose insight can inform the commission. Private hearings will also be carried out “where appropriate” in order to protect those most vulnerable.
Former Medicare CEO Commissioner Briggs confirmed that any information provided to the commission by aged care providers will not be published, however she added that aggregated data may be made public at a later date.
She also confirmed that, up to now, providers have not been compelled to respond to the commission’s request for information, rather invited, adding: “Providers have been asked for this assistance and cooperation, they have not been compelled. Providers who do not help draw attention to themselves and their practices.”
Minister for Senior Australians and Aged Care Ken Wyatt described the commission as a “crucial step forward” in building a “national culture of respect” for ageing and senior Australians.
“As the Royal Commission goes about its critical work, our Government’s rigorous reform program will continue at full pace,” Wyatt said in a statement on Friday. “I will follow closely the Royal Commission’s progress and findings.
“As with all issues of concern, compliance and preventive actions will be undertaken as required, without hesitation. There will be absolutely no compromise on quality care.”
The commission has now been adjourned and will resume on February 11, 2019, in Adelaide, when evidence will be heard about key features of the aged care quality, safety and complaints system are and how it works in practice.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced the establishment of a royal commission into Australia’s aged care industry 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.
The public inquiry will look 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. It will also take into consideration the increasing number of Australians living with dementia in relation to aged care services.
The commission’s interim report is due by October 31, 2019, and its final report no later than April 30, 2020.
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