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Don’t wait for royal commission: aged care must implement changes now

Opinion

Can we really afford to wait? With the aged care royal commission more than a year away from handing down its final report, the sector needs to start implementing fundamental changes now, writes Allison Nikula.

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As someone who operates within the aged care sector, I’ve taken a strong interest in the Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety. I sat in on the Adelaide community forum in August, where family members and loved ones shared their experiences of the aged care sector. We heard disturbing accounts of neglect and distress but also resilience, persistence and love. It was tough to listen to, but a necessary part of the commission’s work if the aged care sector is to learn and improve.

Recently, the aged care royal commission announced an extension to its work. While the commissioners are still required to provide an interim report by 31 October 2019, the final report deadline has been extended from April 2020 to November 2020.

This timeline brings it in line with the previous Royal Commission into Misconduct in the Banking, Superannuation and Financial Services Industry – aka the banking royal commission. The banking royal commission had a two-year timeframe for its work. How else do the two royal commissions compare?

The banking royal commission also heard disturbing and heartrending accounts of conduct within that industry. It received 10,323 submissions in total. The final report from Commissioner Kenneth Hayne made 76 recommendations, 54 of which were directed at government, with the remaining 22 recommendations aimed at regulators and the finance industry.

When questions were asked about bruises, overmedication, meals and cleanliness, too often they were brushed aside or even disputed. This can stop now.

On my examination, 15 banking royal commission recommendations were introduced within six months of the recommendations being made. At 18 months, 90 per cent had been implemented. The remaining four require changes to legislation, and are set to be implemented by the end of 2020.

The aged care royal commission currently has 6022 submissions (it received more than 5000 submissions before the commission’s terms of reference were even set). It will “continue to accept submissions until at least the end of September 2019”.

If we forecast similar timeframes as the banking royal commission, that means 20 per cent of recommendations from the aged care inquiry may be implemented by the end of 2020, with full implementation by April 2022. That’s two years post-final report and nearly four years since the announcement of the royal commission.

Aged care providers don’t need to wait this long to implement changes.

They could take immediate action such as further investing in staff and professional development. For example, ACH Group has invested in innovative ‘empathy suits’ which are being used to train hundreds of entry-level carers.

They could introduce genuine ways to listen and respond to families.

This was a key concern raised at the Adelaide forum: too many wives, husbands and children have been forced to plead for information.

When questions were asked about bruises, overmedication, meals and cleanliness, too often they were brushed aside or even disputed. This can stop now.

While the extended deadline for this royal commission may enable it to gather more information and consider more reforms, actions can be implemented sooner – and are required urgently.

Allison Nikula is Founder of CareApp and has more than 15 years’ experience in the aged care and health sector.

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