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Commissioner reports aged care complaints increase

The new Aged Care Complaints Commissioner received 2,153 formal complaints about residential, home and community care, 1 January to 30 June 2016, an increase of 11 per cent compared to the corresponding six month period in 2015 (1,938 complaints).

Aged Care Complaints Commissioner Rae Lamb
Aged Care Complaints Commissioner Rae Lamb

In her first annual report, released earlier this month, Commissioner Rae Lamb attributes this increase partly to the transition to an independent Commissioner and the public becoming more aware of the office and the support offered.

“It’s also important to acknowledge that the number of complaints continues to be very small compared with the hundreds of thousands of people receiving aged care in their own homes and in residential care,” says Ms Lamb.

In May 2015, the Government announced changes to the way in which complaints about aged care were handled and on 1 January this year, the Aged Care Complaints Commissioner replaced the former Aged Care Complaints Scheme. Ms Lamb heads up 160 staff in seven major cities across Australia, and 1 January to 30 June 2016 had a budget of approximately $9.3 million.

Breaking down the types of complaints about residential care, the report shows clinical care was the most common issue complained about (267) followed by the administration of medication (200), continence management (178) and the choice and dignity of the person receiving care (163).

For home care services, fees (94) attracted the most complaints followed by other financial concerns (55) and communication between the service and person receiving care (66). Commonwealth Home Support Programme complaint issues were very similar, with fees (14), lack of communication (13) and other financial concerns (eight) being the most common. The most common complaint issues for flexible care services were about the conduct or behaviour of service staff (four), infections and infection control (three) and lack of training, skills and adequate qualifications of the staff (three).

Most of the complaints came from family members or representatives (59 per cent) and just 16 per cent came from care recipients. The remaining 25 per cent of complaints were from anonymous complainants, other interested people and referrals from other agencies.

Of the finalised 2,043 complaints, (some received from the former Scheme), 1,865 (91 per cent) complaints were finalised within 90 days. This compares to 88 per cent in the corresponding period in 2015.

The report shows a 23 per cent increase in the number of people contacting the Complaints Commissioner to make enquiries that do not become complaints. Ms Lamb says enquiries are usually of a general nature and may be about service providers’ responsibilities, the rights of residents, or the best way for someone to pursue a complaint directly with the service themselves.

“Although this report only captures the first six months of my new role, my staff and I have hit the ground running and we are excited to share the progress we’ve made. You will see in the report we are already beginning to see positive outcomes from the new independent complaints handling arrangements. In many cases we have seen the service provider learn from the complaint and act on opportunities to improve care for others,” Ms Lamb said.

The Minister for Health and Aged Care Sussan Ley says the report shows that people – consumers, family, carers and loved one – are speaking up when it comes to concerns about their aged care services. “And this is a good thing,” she says.

As well as handling complaints, the Commissioner also assists people to raise their concerns with services and improve the way aged care services respond to complaints.

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