Surprise announcement comes on top of delays for the aged care royal commission

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By Anne Connolly

Updated

December 13, 2018 09:00:19

Who can forget the CEOs sweating it out during the banking royal commission as they were grilled about rip-offs, overcharging and cold, hard cash?

Swap the Commonwealth and AMP chiefs for bosses from aged care providers like BUPA and Opal. Change the victims from regular customers to our most frail elderly. Replace the stories of extra fees and charges with ones of malnourishment, suffering and neglect.

Now you have a taste of what the upcoming Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety is likely to serve up when it starts in February next year.

When Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced the royal commission in September and asked the public to help draw up the terms of reference, he received more than 5,000 submissions in just nine days.

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Despite the industry being kept up-to-date, there’s been little information for the general public since then. There are still no details on the royal commission website. The ABC has been told that information will be available this month and that the public should feel free to email submissions.

Surprise change to the line-up

Further adding to the confusion is the surprise announcement on Tuesday that respected Supreme Court judge and former WA prosecutor Justice Joseph McGrath relinquished his role as commissioner for “personal family reasons”.

Justice McGrath and former Australian Public Service Commissioner Lynelle Briggs were appointed as joint commissioners by the Government. Justice McGrath’s replacement is recently retired Federal Court judge Richard Tracey, who was counsel assisting at the building industry royal commission and defended WorkChoices in the High Court.

The Government’s press release said the change wouldn’t affect the royal commission’s timing but that’s because it’s already running behind schedule.

Mr Morrison promised that the royal commission would start this year. However, its first directions hearing has been postponed from December 7 to January 18. Hearings proper are expected to begin in February, which doesn’t give much time for the public to make submissions, nor for the commissioners to decide on how to approach this complex field.

There’s little doubt the prospect of live coverage of the hearings from Adelaide has aged-care providers shaking in their boots. At industry conferences, the advice has ranged from presenting the right media image during cross-examination to preparing a “war room”.

The industry will need their bunkers. Last month the royal commission sent letters “inviting” them to make early submissions detailing every instance of sub-standard care in the past five years and action taken to improve services.

Though the invitation is just that, it wouldn’t be smart for a nursing home to hold back information. Judging by the ABC’s own crowdsourced investigation in April this year — which saw more than 4,000 people contribute their experiences of aged care and culminated in the Four Corners special Who Cares? — it’s likely many will want to contribute.

More bad news

In the meantime, bad news keeps coming. There are now more than 80 nursing homes under sanction or found lacking by the regulator, the Aged Care Quality Agency. Complaints are up by 30 per cent to the Aged Care Complaints Commissioner.

In the face of all this, the industry is being advised to present a united front. Professor Michael Woods, who oversaw the 2011 Productivity Commission which labelled staff-to-resident ratios a “blunt instrument” — a quote often used by the industry as justification for their opposition to ratios — told a conference to repeat the strategy, which was so successful at his own inquiry.

“If the stakeholders can come together again in front of the royal commission and present a coherent narrative of where we have got to and why — and where we are going — that will have a much more significant influence on the commission than if everyone is out there just protecting their own bit and arguing their own case,” Professor Woods said.

“My great plea is that everyone in the room work with its stakeholder groups and try and maintain that coherence of narrative that is in the best interest of all parties.”

The industry will need that coherence. The very thing they have fought for decades — staff-to-resident ratios — inched a little closer just this week with the release of the House of Representatives’ report recommending nursing homes be forced to publish staffing ratios and qualifications. These are measures the industry has opposed for years and this report received the same opposition.

It will be interesting to see what the Government does with it. Despite 20 extensive federal inquiries and reports into how to improve the sector over the past decade, the recommendations have largely remained just that — a report with no action.

For more information on how the ABC is covering aged care, you can subscribe to our newsletter here.

Topics:

aged-care,

community-and-society,

royal-commissions,

australia

First posted

December 13, 2018 06:15:04



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