Aged care royal commission told of prevalence of assault, malnutrition and dementia

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February 12, 2019 17:21:26

Shocking cases of elder abuse exposed by the ABC’s Four Corners program are the “tip of the iceberg”, with staff shortages contributing to the problem, the Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety has been told.

Key points:

  • The commission heard relying on staff to self report assaults was a flawed model
  • A shortage of vital supplies was a major problem in some facilities
  • The inquiry also heard dementia would increase as a cause of death

The inquiry, which began hearing evidence in Adelaide yesterday, has today heard further damning claims about the quality of care throughout the country, including the prevalence of malnutrition and assault.

The Combined Pensioners and Superannuants Association (CPSA) of NSW told the commission that the current care model was flawed because it relied on staff to self report assault cases.

“In many facilities they are not even recorded and we can assume that it happens a lot,” CPSA policy coordinator Paul Versteege said.

“It now stands at 1.7 per cent of aged care residents can expect, on the basis of the figures, to be assaulted by a staff member.

“We take the ‘tip of the iceberg’ approach, not necessarily that the horrific assaults that we have seen on the ABC Four Corners program happened as a matter of routine, but it is indicative of almost everything that is wrong with the residential aged care sector.

“If you had more staff in residential aged care sectors there wouldn’t be as many assaults. There wouldn’t be a stress, there would be more social control.”

Malnutrition, a lack of space and a shortage of vital supplies were also chronic problems within the system, the commission was told.

“Rates of 50 per cent malnutrition in residential aged care facilities are very common,” Mr Versteege said.

“We are talking about people who have moved into care and are still malnourished — that is a very obvious breach of safety.

“In nursing homes it’s quite common for continence pads to be rationed, that is the anecdotal evidence we hear from nurses.

“In home care, people have trouble accessing very basic equipment, like a wheelchair.”

Residents dying on home care waiting lists

The commission is investigating how to improve the way older Australians are treated, but heard that the challenges were likely to increase as the population continued to age.

The Older Persons Advocacy Network Limited — an independent support group for older people — gave evidence outlining some “potholes” in the system.

Chief executive Craig Gear said the organisation had seen psychological, physical and financial abuse of older people in the aged care sector and was running educational programs in a bid to combat it.

Mr Gear said the organisation was receiving up to 240 calls a week from people expressing concern about the current waiting times to access Federal Government home care packages, which allowed people to live independently at home.

“The capped system is not meeting the demands — the supply is not meeting demand in Australia,” he said.

“At the moment, that is equating to 18 to 24 months waiting times and we would say that’s not acceptable and older people are telling us it’s not acceptable.

“Anything under three months would be something we were looking for.”

Outside the commission Mr Gear went further, explaining that it was far too common for people to die while waiting for home care assistance packages.

“I have heard of a number of cases where people have been waiting on that home care waiting list, for the right level of care, and they have passed away before that care was able to be accessed, which is really distressing,” he said.

Dementia as a cause of death to rise

Giving evidence to the commission, the Australian Bureau of Statistics’ (ABS) health and disability branch program manager Justine Boland said the percentage of the Australian population aged over 85 was expected to double by 2066.

She said in the next few years, dementia was likely to become the leading cause of death for people in that over 85 age group, surpassing heart disease.

“At the moment, it’s the leading cause for women,” she said.

“What we’ve found in analysing deaths is a lot more people are surviving having ischaemic heart disease because of the better treatment or prevention available to them.

“They’re living for longer and we’re also seeing that dementia … becomes something that’s more prevalent in the older population and is increasingly likely to become the leading cause of death.”

Counsel assisting Peter Gray QC yesterday told the commission that there were currently about 376,000 Australians living with dementia.

He said by 2050, the number of Australians suffering from the disease would more than double, to 900,000.

Topics:

aged-care,

community-and-society,

royal-commissions,

law-crime-and-justice,

older-people,

adelaide-5000,

sa,

australia



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