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On 1 March 2021 the Commonwealth government released the voluminous report of the Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety.

The Commissioners (Lynelle Briggs and Tony Pagone QC) made over 140 recommendations. The Commissioners differed in some of their conclusions as to how the system should be overhauled. They were unanimous though that major change is required not just at the coalface of service provision but also in relation to regulation and oversight.

While Commissioner Pagone would like an independent statutory body to be established, Commissioner Briggs believes this body should fall under the remit of the Department of Health and Aged Care. Either way, whatever body is selected as the preferred overseer must be provided with the tools, authority, funding and staffing to ensure that it can regulate the sector effectively.

The core findings of the Commission are that the present system is broken. Successive governments over the past 25 years have stripped the sector of significant funding (to the tune of about $10 billion) in their pursuit of “productivity gains”. The net effect of this is that aged care facilities have for many years tried to survive financially by engaging fewer or less qualified staff, particularly at night. This is primarily why so many harrowing accounts of mistreatment were given to the Commission by family members and staff.

My observations of the sector are that it is staffed overwhelmingly by good, caring people trying to do the best job they can in very difficult circumstances.

There is no doubt that a substantial amount of money is going to be required to reform the sector. There is a dispute between the Commissioners as to how best to raise these funds. The extent of the reforms required suggests that the “fix” will not occur quickly. The government recognised this when the Prime Minister announced yesterday that $452 million would be injected into the system immediately and more announcements will follow in the May budget.

We can only hope though that the government and opposition are up to the task. To enact, regulate and supervise the required changes will require great courage and clarity. Our elderly deserve nothing less.

In the interim, we will continue to be committed to identifying those facilities that are providing quality care to their residents despite the challenges they face within the system while we optimistically await the arrival of the new dawn.

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