Prime Minister Scott Morrison has announced a new royal commission, this time in aged care services, which the industry hopes will weed out misconduct and set the scene for much-needed reforms.
Despite the former Treasurer’s public opposition to having a royal commission into the banking and financial services industry, he moved quickly to set up a new commission into the aged care sector.
“This royal commission will primarily look at the quality of care provided in residential and home aged care to senior Australians, but also include young Australians with disabilities living in residential aged care settings,” Mr Morrison said.
The Prime Minister noted in his announcement on Sunday (16 September) that Australian aged care and research is not just a significant industry domestically, stating that “aged care services and training has [also] become an important service export industry for Australia”.
As such, he said that it is in the nation’s best interest, not just those in care, to investigate the industry and boost standards.
“Incidences of older people being hurt by failures of care simply cannot be explained or excused. We must be assured about how widespread these cases are. I also want to be assured about the care provided to younger Australians living in the residential aged care facilities,” he said.
“As a community, we expect high standards for the quality and safety of aged care services. Our government shares these expectations. This royal commission will be about proactively determining what we need to do in the future to ensure these expectations can be met.”
According to Mr Morrison, there are significant public and industry concerns about systemic issues and duty of care breaches in the sector. He noted that since the Oakden tragedy in May 2017 – in which a number of elderly residents were abused physically and even sexually or otherwise mistreated at a South Australian nursing home, potentially leading to deaths – the government has been shutting down service providers at a rate of almost one per month.
He said that the scope of the royal commission will be established “in consultation with the community”, but that he wants to see a thorough examination of:
- The quality of care provided to older Australians, and the extent of substandard care;
- The challenge of providing care to Australians with disabilities living in residential aged care, particularly younger people with disabilities;
- The challenge of supporting the increasing number of Australians suffering dementia and addressing their care needs as they age;
- The future challenges and opportunities for delivering aged care services in the context of changing demographics, including in remote, rural and regional Australia;
- Any other matters that the royal commission considers necessary.
The aged care sector directly and indirectly supports a vast array of businesses and industries, including healthcare and associated services, property, retirement living, home maintenance and modifications, social work, transportation and mobility, veterans affairs, as well as an increasing technology focus on the likes of home monitoring, mobile assistance services and others.
There is also a strong influence from religious organisations, with Anglicare, the Lutheran Church, Presbyterian Care, Baptist Care, Catholic Health, The Salvation Army Aged Care Plus and Uniting Care all members of the National Aged Care Alliance.
‘We recognise things can and do go wrong’: Industry
Aged Care & Community Services Australia (ACSA), the industry body for not-for-profit care service providers, acknowledged that mistakes have been made, and welcomed the royal commission as an opportunity to identify means to improve the quality of service delivery – particularly as the population ages, placing ever-greater strain on the sector’s resources.
“Aged care is a uniquely human industry. We recognise things can and do go wrong,” ACSA said in a statement.
“We acknowledge that in recent times, there has been increasing community concern about the quality of aged care.
“The aged care sector does not fear scrutiny or accountability. We have actively participated in multiple and substantial government-led inquiries and reviews over the years with the aim of improving and delivering quality aged care services. We will participate fully and transparently in the royal commission towards the same ends.
“We want the royal commission to focus on the root cause and critical issues facing aged care. This will give us the foundation to deliver on public expectations in the future.”
Meanwhile, COTA Australia, a lobby group for older persons, expressed concerns about the royal commission being used to delay funding and policy reforms already in the works.
“Chronic systemic failures in our aged care sector must be addressed to prevent any repeat of the tragic events at Oakden and ensure older Australians get the support they need, when they need it,” the group’s chief executive, Ian Yates, said.
“Both the Tune Review and the Carnell/Paterson Report into our aged care sector made significant recommendations on how we can and must improve regulation, funding and transparency in our aged care sector.
“Some of those recommendations are in train and must not stall – such as the new Quality and Safety Commission, funding for even more high-level home care packages, and a strategy to improve the quality and sustainability of the aged care workforce to appropriately meet current demand.”
Banking royal commission sets nasty precedent
The still ongoing banking royal commission, which is expected to release its findings in early 2019, has uncovered a litany of misconduct, inappropriate dealings and even potentially illegal behaviour since it began earlier this year.
Some of these include:
Regulators giving CBA’s insurance arm a massive discount on a penalty, and allowing it to draft the related media release
A systemic problem across a number of banks and financial services giants charging fees for services not provided
NAB unlawfully seizing a customer’s property to pay down loans
Bankwest bullying small businesses into bankruptcy
But the commission has also heard allegations made against other businesses and industries outside of its scope, such as claims of unfair contracts imposed by retail landlords and misconduct by liquidators and receivers.
If this example is anything to go by, aged care operators and related service providers, as well as those that service them, will have a bumpy road ahead. But like the banking royal commission, this may ultimately prove to be a necessary evil to restore public confidence.
As Mr Morrison himself said during his press conference to announcement the commission, “I think we should brace ourselves for some pretty bruising information about the way our loved ones, some of them, have experienced some real mistreatment.”
Adam Zuchetti is the editor of My Business, and has steered the publication’s editorial direction since early 2016.