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Media coverage continues to call into question aged care quality

The quality of care received in aged care homes across the nation is once again a hot topic of discussion, thanks to ongoing concern following a number of incidents linked to one Queensland provider.

Aged care quality and safety come first and that it is “not negotiable” (Source: Shutterstock)
Aged care quality and safety come first and that it is “not negotiable” (Source: Shutterstock)

Ongoing media coverage of incidents linked to a Bundaberg aged care facility from 2017 are prolonging and increasing concerns over the quality of care in our nation’s aged care home.

Since the recent coverage, aired by the ABC, a number of Government ministers and aged care peak bodies have come forward to highlight that aged care quality and safety come first and that it is “not negotiable”.

Federal Minister for Aged Care Ken Wyatt was one of the first to come forward, saying that the provision of safe, quality care 24 hours a day, every day of the year, in aged care homes in the Bundaberg area and across the nation is non-negotiable.

“The Australian Aged Care Quality Agency is responsible for administering the stringent laws, compliance and regulations that are in place, including the Turnbull Government’s new regime of unannounced auditing of homes,” he explains.

“The Agency advises that Bundaberg’s BlueCare Aged Care Services last received an unannounced inspection on 27 March 2018 and continues to be subject to strict improvement notices.

“I have asked the Agency for a detailed report on the progress of these Bundaberg services.”

Minister Wyatt says local Member of Parliament Keith Pitt has been a strong advocate throughout this time on behalf of concerned local families.

“While I always respect the confidentiality and dignity of my constituents and their loved ones, we are very active in trying to assist with their concerns [and] appropriate and immediate actions have been taken,” Mr Pitt says.

Industry peak body Leading Age Services Australia (LASA) has also made note of the concerns once again raised by the ABC, with Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Sean Rooney saying high quality aged care is something we all want, and what our older Australians need and deserve, adding that it is what “we” are striving to deliver.

“Australia has a good aged care system, and we know that a good system can always do better,” Mr Rooney says.

“Situations such as those raised by the ABC’s 7.30 Report are not acceptable.

“However, the actions taken by the Australian Aged Care Quality Agency (AACQA) show that the aged care regulatory system is working.”

Mr Rooney says it should be noted that almost 97 percent of aged care facilities in Queensland received a “clean bill of health” in 2017 with no issues raised whatsoever.

He also adds that many factors contribute to quality and standards in aged care and these include the age services workforce.

The Australian Nursing and Midwifery Federation (ANMF) has been vocal in their call for mandated staffing ratios in aged care, and have also blamed low nurse numbers in aged care for what was aired by the ABC.

Federal Secretary of the ANMF, Annie Butler, says the investigation by the 7.30 Report revealed “how a lack of qualified staff and the failure to recognise clinically significant incidents” led to unnecessary suffering for residents, families and staff, and even premature death for one resident, in the Bundaberg aged care facility.

“In August last year when we learnt that BlueCare was sacking nurses across its aged care facilities in Queensland, ANMF members warned the provider and the government that residents would suffer,” Ms Butler explains.

“And tragically, that’s exactly what has happened.

“And worse, we know that what’s happened at BlueCare is happening around the country as providers continue to employ fewer and fewer nurses to care for an increasing number of vulnerable residents with increasingly complex medical needs.”

Ms Butler highlighted the ANMF’s new campaign which focuses on how, in the absence of mandated staffing ratios, dangerously low-levels of nurse and carer staffing continue to put the lives of the elderly at risk - in the process calling aged care a “national disgrace” and a “crisis that shames us all”.

“The Federal Government, Opposition and all other Federal politicians must stop ignoring the staffing crisis in aged care,” she says.

“They must stop conducting reviews, inquiries and reports and start fixing the problem by making ratios in aged care law.”

LASA’s Mr Rooney has shot back at the ANMF’s call for ratios, saying the provision of appropriate levels of care for older Australians in residential care facilities is not as simple as the number of staff on duty, or arbitrary staffing ratios.

“The needs of people in residential aged care are highly variable and, within stringent quality control system, a flexible staffing mix can deliver the best quality of care targeted at individual care need,” Mr Rooney explains.

“Flexibility to adjust the staffing mix as the profile of residents changes is a very important consideration, as is the adaptability to move to new models of care driven by innovation and new technology.

“Our industry has welcomed the opportunity to work with the Federal Government’s Aged Care Workforce Taskforce which is responsible for developing a wide-ranging workforce strategy focused on ensuring safe, quality aged care for older Australians.”

Any concerns around aged care quality can be directed to the Aged Care Complaints Commissioner on 1800 550 552 or to the Australian Aged Care Quality Agency on 1800 978 666.

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