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Anonymous reporting tool exposes failures in aged care

A new whistleblower reporting tool established by United Workers Union (UWU) has had over 2,000 aged care workers expose safety risks and staffing issues in aged care facilities across Australia in the last two months.

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The reporting tool has been used to report inadequate staffing and other issues at aged care facilities around Australia. [Source: Shutterstock]

The Aged Care Watch website, made available in July, provides aged care workers, as well as the general public, with an avenue to make an anonymous report of issues they are facing firsthand in the facilities they work in or have visited, that they feel have left older residents vulnerable or unsafe.

Aged care workers have reported inadequate staffing at their facilities, older Australians left in distress or unattended after a fall, and residents that have been left soiled for long periods of time.

Carolyn Smith, Aged Care Director of the United Workers Union, says, "Aged care workers are saying they have had enough and they are no longer going to keep the lid on the failures in aged care.

"They are exposing the dirty secret of aged care and it's not a pretty picture.

"Aged care workers are telling the public about the terrible conditions they face on a daily basis as they campaign to change aged care - and politicians need to take notice."

This watchdog tool was launched in July and had already amassed over 2,000 reports of issues in aged care by its official launch date on 3 September.

On the website, you can view a map of Australia, which has dotted locations of aged care facilities that have anonymous reports of problems at the site.

The Union wants the site to be used by aged care workers, families, friends and aged care residents to highlight issues in facilities they visit or work in with the ability to be anonymous.

Many aged care workers have reported being unable to complete their work, having to miss breaks because they are too busy, or experiencing abuse or an injury while on the job, which are considered signs of understaffing by the Australian Nursing and Midwifery Federation (ANMF).

One personal care worker in South Australia outlined their experience of understaffing, saying, "In my section there is a resident who falls multiple times with a fracture in his neck and when his sensor goes off we are told to run, needs a one on one but management will not pay for a staff member. 

"The resident had five falls last night and displays aggressive behaviour late in the evening. I am on my own for two hours attending to call bells and assisting residents to bed and trying to do my documentation and cleaning up the kitchen."

While this reporting tool is available, it is not linked to the Government Department and no reports will be actioned upon.

There are reporting mechanisms in place for understaffing issues or problems in aged care for aged care workers and families, friends and aged care residents, including complaints and resolutions with facility managers or reporting to the Aged Care Quality and Safety Commission.

Industry raises concerns about reporting tool

Chief Executive Officer of Leading Age Services Australia (LASA), Sean Rooney, advises caution when using the Aged Care Watch site and believes that there are enough social media avenues for people to give feedback on issues in aged care, including on providers' own social media channels.

However, he adds that these sites are often host to unsubstantiated claims and complaints about a workplace which has been published without any opportunity for recourse by the provider of the complaint.

Mr Rooney says that the UWU complaint report website also acknowledges that the information on the website 'may contain errors or inaccuracies' and that the UWU does not independently verify the information provided and cannot guarantee its accuracy.

"Unsubstantiated claims about a workplace or the care it provides are unhelpful and can be the cause of unnecessary alarm and anxiety by family members and loved ones of residents of aged care facilities," explains Mr Rooney.

"The UWU advocates to ensure that their members receive procedural fairness when complaints or claims are made against them. It is sad that they don’t feel that this extends to the management of aged care employers.

"While staff are free to make use of these sites, if a staff member has a complaint we would encourage them to take it up with their employer personally or through a staff representative. This should provide the most efficient and effective way to address an issue. Further, staff can also contact the Aged Care Quality and Safety Commission to raise concerns.

"We would also encourage staff to ensure they protect the privacy of the residents they care for and that of their work colleagues, and that any information they submit is fair and accurate."

Mr Rooney points to other "effective, moderated online platforms" that are available to use in the aged care sector which provide useful details about an individual's experience with a service.

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