'Safety is non-negotiable': Nursing home checks set for overhaul

This change has been a long time coming. Source: Getty Images

Every few weeks, there seems to be a new story making headlines about the abuse going on in aged care facilities. The situation can be horrifying and degrading for residents, but there’s also a sense of utter hopelessness when questionable facilities receive re-accreditation as though nothing is amiss. A contributing factor to these situations is the fact that regulator visits and re-accreditation checks have always been announced ahead of time, allowing the guilty parties to quickly adjust their behaviour and ensure that nothing untoward is visible during the regulator’s visit. 

But now, the minister for aged care Ken Wyatt has revealed that the current system will be replaced with “unannounced audits across Australia’s residential aged care facilities, to help ensure safe, quality care standards are maintained at all centres at all times”. This is thanks to an independent review of the national aged care quality regulatory processes, which you can read in full here

Read more: ‘Agency that approves care homes misses appalling neglect’, report finds

“Aged care safety and quality are non-negotiable and must be delivered to residents 365 days of the year, without exception,” Wyatt said.

“I ordered this review after the appalling revelations at South Australia’s Oakden facility, and there have been other high-profile aged care failures which have highlighted where parts of our systems have sadly let us down. While the overwhelming majority of facilities provide excellent care and are working to continually improve services, our focus must be on those that are not delivering.” 

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Makk and McLeay Nursing Home at Oakden was put under investigation earlier in 2017 after reports that residents at the recently re-accredited facility were “abused, overdosed on drugs and inappropriately restrained”. 

Read more: Horrific case sets off aged care inquiry 

The Turnbull government’s decision to follow Recommendation 8 in the report means that, while initial accreditation audits will be made in consultation with the provider, facilities will not be notified about subsequent re-accreditation reviews, which should be “conducted over at least two days”. 

It’s not quite the same “secret shopper” tactic that retailers level at their employees to ensure service is up to standard, but it’s a definite step in the right direction, and it’s hoped that this will force the aged care facilities to keep on their toes and provide the best service possible rather than slacking off between visits as the government continues to consider the entire review in detail. 

Read more: Study reveals shocking increase in aged care deaths

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Ian Yates, chief executive of Council on the Ageing (COTA) Australia, called the report’s recommendations “bold but realistic”. The recommendations include creating a centralised and independent commission to deal with compliance and complaints, as well as “a centralised database for real-time information sharing”. 

“The report recommends the current jigsaw puzzle of regulatory bodies be brought together into one agency to create a seamless crackdown on resident abuse, poor performance and to put an end to the ‘tick the box’ approach to accreditation that some aged care providers have been using to their own advantage,” Yates said in a statement.

“Older Australians also have a right to expect that their complaints about poor quality services and care are taken seriously, acted on promptly and effectively, and that solutions achieved through the complaints process are not one-off but are dealt with by providers in a systematic way so they don’t keep happening.” 

Wyatt said that the government’s commitment to the initiative will be “relentless”. 

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“I remain equally committed to working with all aged care providers and the entire case sector, to ensure our quality and safety standards are world-class.” 

How do you think nursing homes should be monitored to prevent abuses?