Friday, July 28, 2006

Howard Government delivers major new safeguards against abuse

Aged Abused
Originally uploaded by Sydney Weasel.
The Howard Government has announced a $90.2 million package of reforms aimed at further safeguarding older people in residential aged care homes from sexual and serious physical assault.

The reforms, announced today by the Minister for Ageing, Senator Santo Santoro, include the creation of a new Aged Care Commissioner, rigorous new complaints investigation procedures, a regime of compulsory reporting of abuse, and legislative protections for whistleblowers.


Anonymous said...

This follows Senator Santoro’s announcement in April of compulsory background checks for aged care staff and volunteers, and a significant increase in random unannounced inspections of aged care homes. Together with the earlier changes, the new measures take the total value of the government’s response to abuse allegations to more than $100 million over four years.

Senator Santoro said the changes - and the significant financial commitment that underpins them - demonstrated how seriously the Howard Government had taken the isolated but troubling revelations of abuse of the elderly.

"The Government has moved to significantly strengthen the complaints handling powers available under the Aged Care Act 1997 by introducing the capacity to investigate complaints, as opposed to the former conflict resolution model that relied on mediation. Some complaints are just amenable to mediation," he said.

"A new Office for Aged Care Quality and Compliance will replace the Aged Care Complaints Resolution Scheme. This Office will have trained investigative staff and greater powers to examine complaints from residents, their families or staff of homes. It will also have nationally centralised processing and prioritising of complaints.

"The Government will also establish a dedicated Aged Care Commissioner, who will have wide-ranging powers to conduct and even initiate investigations into the quality of care provided in residential facilities," Senator Santoro said.

"A further central element of these new reforms is the introduction of compulsory reporting by approved providers of incidents of sexual and serious physical assault in aged care homes," Senator Santoro said.

"Under the new complaints arrangements providers of residential aged care will be required to report incidents involving alleged sexual or serious physical assault to the police and to the Office of Aged Care Quality and Compliance. In addition, this new measure will protect whistleblowers in aged care homes from harassment or discrimination as a result of their notifications of these alleged incidents."

Senator Santoro said the preventative measures previously announced and the new investigative and complaints handling procedures would provide greater protection than ever before for Australia’s frail aged.

"While the overwhelming majority of aged care providers give high quality care, every Australian was shocked at the alleged abuse uncovered earlier this year. As a caring society, we cannot be complacent about these incidents, even though they are few in number.

"I said I would act as quickly as possible to improve the system, and these reforms honour my commitment to older Australians and their families. The safety and security of residents in aged care homes is my highest priority.

"No government can issue a blanket guarantee against the actions of evil individuals, but I am confident these changes provide significant improvements to systems that reduce the likelihood of this kind of threat to the safety and security for residents of aged care homes."

It is anticipated the reforms will take effect from 1 April, 2007.

Anonymous said...

Fact Sheet - Aged care complaints reforms


Faced with a small number of incidents of alleged sexual and physical assault in some Australian Government subsidised aged care homes, the Minister for Ageing, Senator Santo Santoro, moved swiftly to implement a range of measures to protect older Australians living in residential care. Reforms already announced include the introduction of compulsory police checks of staff and Community Visitor Scheme volunteers and increased spot checks of aged care homes by the Aged Care Standards and Accreditation Agency.

These initiatives, together with the new measures announced today, will provide improved protections against abuse of the elderly in residential care homes, as well as a greater capacity to investigate incidents of alleged sexual and physical assault. The current Aged Care Complaints Resolution Scheme will be replaced with more robust arrangements for dealing with complaints and compliance. This measure also includes the introduction of compulsory reporting of incidents of alleged sexual and serious physical assault in residential aged care and whistleblower protection for approved providers and staff who report.

New Office for Aged Care Quality and Compliance

The new complaints mechanism will be administered by a new Office for Aged Care Quality and Compliance (the Office) within the Department of Health and Ageing and will be underpinned by substantial changes to the aged care legislation. The Office will:
Have the power to investigate all complaints and information
Have nationally centralised intake and prioritising of all contacts by high level, specifically trained staff
Have powers to determine whether a breach of the approved provider’s responsibilities has occurred and, where a breach is identified, take appropriate action to remedy the breach
Have the capacity to issue Notices of Required Action to providers who have breached their responsibilities, and take compliance action where the provider fails to remedy the issue
Provide feedback to the complainant on the outcome.
New Aged Care Commissioner

The new arrangements will also include the establishment of a dedicated Aged Care Commissioner who will replace the existing Commissioner for Complaints. The new Commissioner will have wide ranging scope to hear complaints about action taken by the Office of Aged Care Quality and Compliance from care recipients, carers, aged care staff, providers of aged care and members of the community. The Aged Care Commissioner will have greater powers including the capacity to initiate investigations even where a complaint has not been received. The Commissioner will monitor the operations of the Office of Aged Care Quality and Compliance, provide an independent avenue to deal with complaints about the activities of the Office, and provide for external review for decisions.

Compulsory reporting of alleged sexual and serious physical assault

The new complaints mechanism will also require approved providers to report incidents involving alleged sexual or serious physical assault of residents in residential aged care to the police and the Department of Health and Ageing.
Under the changes approved providers will be required to:
Report all allegations and suspicions of sexual or serious physical assault, to the police and to the Office of Aged Care Quality and Compliance without delay
Ensure there are specific internal processes in place for the reporting of all incidents involving alleged sexual or serious physical assault to the approved provider or key personnel of the aged care home
Provide a mechanism for staff to report to the Office, where staff do not feel comfortable reporting alleged incidents to the home
Promote a supportive environment for the reporting of alleged incidents that protects staff who have reported matters in good faith.
Failure to report such incidents may result in compliance action under the Act, including imposition of sanctions.

Whistleblower protection

Whistleblower protection will be introduced as part of the compulsory reporting requirements as it is believed that people will be more likely to report incidents of alleged abuse where they do not fear reprisal from their employer or other staff when incidents are reported in good faith. Approved providers will be required to have policies and procedures in place to ensure that the identity of whistleblowers is protected and that whistleblowers are not unfairly treated as a result of making a report


It is intended that the reforms will take effect from April 1, 2007. The Department of Health and Ageing will issue approved providers with information and guidelines on the new requirements. The department will continue to consult with the aged care industry throughout the implementation of these measures.

Cost of new reforms

The Australian Government will provide $90.2 million over four years for the implementation and ongoing operation of this measure. The 2006-07 Federal Budget included funding of $8.6 million to pay for the additional unannounced inspections of aged care homes, and $1.8 million to pay for police checks for volunteers participating in the Community Visitors’ Scheme. Together, the reforms are worth a total of $100.6 million over four years.

The Australian Government provides $7.8 billion annually to the aged care sector to provide older Australians with quality aged care