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Australia responds to TV report revealing “unacceptable failures” in aged care

Emotions are running high across the nation following the airing of the first episode of a Four Corners two-part look into the ‘business of aged care’, which highlights a number of failures of care, and poor practice.

 Instances of unacceptable failures of care in the aged care system have been highlighted in a Four Corners investigation (Source: Shutterstock)
Instances of unacceptable failures of care in the aged care system have been highlighted in a Four Corners investigation (Source: Shutterstock)

The content, which includes hidden camera footage and statements from the alleged victims’ families, has been labelled as ‘distressing and alarming’ by the industry, reinforcing the need for continued reform of the aged care sector.

Chief Executive of peak body for older Australians - Council on the Ageing (COTA) - Ian Yates says the examples of residents being left alone for hours; the failure to provide basic needs such as showering, incontinence pads and food; and the overuse of antipsychotic drugs for long term control of behaviour, often without patient or family consent, are “disturbing and unacceptable, but not new”.

“Last night’s Four Corners program demonstrates why COTA has advocated so long and so forcefully for Governments to review the standards, regulatory framework, workforce culture and funding of aged care so that these kinds of issues are addressed and corrected, and the quality of care improved,” Mr Yates says.

Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of aged care peak body Leading Age Services Australia (LASA), Sean Rooney, was interviewed as part of the investigative piece, and says a safe and high-quality aged care system is something “we all want”, and what older Australians “need and deserve”.

“Regrettably, as highlighted in the Four Corners program, there have been instances of unacceptable failures of care in the aged care system which has quite properly been the subject of investigation and sanction,” he says.

Fellow aged care peak body CEO Pat Sparrow from Aged and Community Services Australia (ACSA) also shared her thoughts on the matter - noting that there is “no room in our community for poor or inattentive care”.

“The stories of individual suffering retold on Four Corners are unacceptable,” she says.

“They fall well short of the standards of care all Australians - including those working in care services - expect for our elders.

“The stories told last night certainly do not reflect the high standards of thousands of hard-working people who deliver aged care every day around the country.

“As an industry we share the dismay felt by the community when older Australians and their families are hurt by neglect or poor care.”

As Ms Sparrow says, many Australians were “dismayed” at the report, with many jumping on board with the ongoing calls for mandated aged care staffing ratios, but with a number also standing up for the many quality aged care providers and staff across the nation who are caught up in the negativity.

Many took to the Four Corners Facebook page to share their thoughts and opinions on the report, with some sharing their personal view on how the report was put together.

“Such a shame this is a one sided story,” Yulunda Matau says in her Facebook comment.

“I’m not saying those things don’t happen, because clearly they do but there are some amazing aged care facilities out there with staff that do some pretty amazing things… I would have appreciated a balanced view, not sensationalism.”

Shannon Sanderson was another active member of the public who took to the Four Corners Facebook post to highlight too, that there are always two sides to every story.

“There are facilities with same staffing numbers who provide great care but that doesn’t make the news,” she says.

“Both Ken (Minister Wyatt) and Sean (Mr Rooney) have done alot to support the industry in the wake of Oakden which was not privately run - it was [Government] run.

“This is a biased story portraying a few unacceptable stories not the majority of the industry.”

Anglican Care is one of the handful of aged care providers featured in the Four Corners report, and has released their own statement in light of the allegations.

In their statement, the provider says: “Anglican Care takes its responsibility to each and every resident or client and their family members very seriously.

“We want to provide services in a way which meets the ‘my mum, my dad’ test every time.

“Every staff member at Anglican Care maintains a strong commitment to ensuring that the services we provide to every resident and client reflects contemporary and safe practice in an environment which promotes the best possible lifestyle for each individual given their circumstances.”

The statement also addresses the specific claims made in the television report - including denying that the featured resident was “not repeatedly sedated as claimed”, that treating doctors gained informed consent from the family for all medications and consulted with the family, and that when the family was unhappy with the organisation’s response to one incident of overmedicating that they admit to, they took the issue to the Aged Care Complaints Commission who noted that the organisation provided “sufficient response” to the matter and it was thereby deemed closed.

Like Mr Rooney, Federal Minister for Senior Australians and Aged Care Ken Wyatt was also interviewed in the Four Corners piece, which, like much of Australia, he watched last night.

“Like anyone who watched last night’s Four Corners program, I was absolutely appalled by the lack of care shown for some of Australia’s most vulnerable citizens,” he says.

“I am deeply saddened by the stories - and there can be no excuse for such practices.

“They have highlighted the importance of the reform agenda we are implementing to increase the regulatory oversight of Australia’s aged care sector.

“We have announced a Royal Commission into the aged care sector - and it will provide the Government with important recommendations.

“It will look at the sector as a whole - without bias or prejudice. It will make findings on the evidence, and as a Government, and a Parliament, it will be our job to act on these findings together.

“I think we have to prepare ourselves for the Royal Commission to uncover some pretty bruising information about the way our loved ones have been mistreated.

“Facilities not providing the care we expect no longer have anywhere to hide - and we have the option to shut down operators not doing the right thing.”

In the meantime, Minister Wyatt says Government will continue implementing their “important reform agenda” which includes establishing a new, independent Aged Care Quality and Safety Commission, introducing the new Aged Care Quality Standards, as well as continuing to support advocacy services.

The aged care sector over the past few days has welcomed the announcement of a Royal Commission, with the peak bodies - such as ACSA and LASA - acknowledging that it must run in addition to the Government’s current reform agenda.

Minister Wyatt, the aged care peak bodies and advocacy groups are calling for anyone with concerns about staffing levels or quality and safety of care to immediately report these matters, openly or anonymously, to the Aged Care Complaints Commissioner on 1800 550 552.

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