The Royal Commission into Aged Care was established by the Governor General (under the direction of the Commonwealth Government) in December 2018.
The Commissioners were appointed to be a commission of inquiry, and required and authorised to inquire into the following matters:
- the quality of aged care services provided to Australians, the extent to which those services meet the needs of the people accessing them, the extent of substandard care being provided, including mistreatment and all forms of abuse, the causes of any systemic failures, and any actions that should be taken in response;
- how best to deliver aged care services to: people with disabilities residing in aged care facilities, including younger people; and the increasing number of Australians living with dementia, having regard to the importance of dementia care for the future of aged care services;
- the future challenges and opportunities for delivering accessible, affordable and high quality aged care services in Australia, including: in the context of changing demographics and preferences, in particular people’s desire to remain living at home as they age; and in remote, rural and regional Australia;
- what the Australian Government, aged care industry, Australian families and the wider community can do to strengthen the system of aged care services to ensure that the services provided are of high quality and safe;
- how to ensure that aged care services are person centred, including through allowing people to exercise greater choice, control and independence in relation to their care, and improving engagement with families and carers on care related matters;
- how best to deliver aged care services in a sustainable way, including through innovative models of care, increased use of technology, and investment in the aged care workforce and capital infrastructure;
- any matter reasonably incidental to a matter referred to in paragraphs (1) to (6) or that [the Commissioners] believe is reasonably relevant to the inquiry.
The Commissioners are presently the Honourable Tony Pagone QC (a former Victorian Supreme Court and Federal Court judge) and Lynelle Briggs AO former CEO of Medicare and Public Service Commissioner.
It has had a fairly troubled history with the first appointed Commissioner, Justice McGrath of the WA Supreme Court standing down for family reasons after only a few months. He was replaced by a former Federal Court judge, Richard Tracey AO but Mr Tracey passed away recently after a short illness.
Initially, most publicly available information about evidence being presented at the Royal Commission was that being published in various media outlets. Evidence has been received from residents, family members of residents, and from employees of aged care facilities.
One common thread is emerging from this evidence. Almost all aged care institutions are underfunded. This has led to staff being overworked and having to work under very trying conditions. Staff to resident ratios are almost universally too low to ensure adequate care.
Recently on ABC Television’s Q&A, a representative of an umbrella body for care organisations pointed out that Australia’s spending on aged care is significantly below the OECD average. Whereas the average spend on aged care in other OECD member countries is 1.5% of GDP, in Australia it is less than 1%.
The interim report of the Royal Commission was published on 31 October 2019. Its report was highly critical of the state of aged care in Australia.
The Commissioners described the services as “fragmented, unsupported and underfunded.”
They did, however, identify three areas where immediate action can be taken to improve the sector:
- 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,
- reducing the number of younger people with a disability being placed in aged care.
The response to the Interim Report has been predictable outrage. The Minister for Aged care, Richard Colbeck has acknowledged that the findings warrant action being taken. Fortunately, it seems that this might result in some prompt action being taken. The Prime Minister has already promised that more funds will be made available to the aged care sector in the mid-year budget update to be released next month.
Although the injection of funds is unlikely to resolve all the problems identified in the Interim Report by the Royal Commission this is welcome news.
While it is too early to pre-empt the final findings and recommendations of the Royal Commission, which are due to be published in late 2020, it seems clear that the key to fixing a system described by most as “broken” is significantly increased Government spending on aged care.
If you or a loved one is needs help to find a suitable aged care facility, contact Lewis Chiat. He is an experienced aged care placement consultant in Perth with over 20 years’ experience as a lawyer who has also worked for a number of years as a senior legal officer for a state government agency, dealing with the affairs of the aged and disabled in the community.