As Australia’s aged care sector straps itself in for an 18-month royal commission that was ticked off by Governor General Peter Cosgrove this week, providers have pledged to co-operate “fully and transparently to achieve the outcomes we all want”.
The speed with which Prime Minister Scott Morrison was able to finalise the commission’s terms of reference was remarkable, considering the government had received a tsunami of more than 5,100 submissions since announcing the inquiry less than four weeks ago on September 16.
It’s a reflection of the urgency of the aged care question, both as a pressing social issue and a political hot potato.
While the PM’s announcement was greeted with a general spirit of optimism and co-operation in official statements from stakeholders, an online poll of Australian Ageing Agenda’s readers showed that most people are taking a “wait-and-see” approach to what a royal commission might achieve.
As of Thursday morning, when asked “do you think the royal commission will bring about positive change in the aged care sector” 65 per cent (137 votes) said they were hopeful it would, but were reserving judgement until it was over.
Nineteen per cent, or 40 voters, said they thought the inquiry would improve the quality of care and make providers more accountable and 17 per cent (35) said it would just delay real reform and achieve nothing.
Welcomed by industry
Peak industry body Aged and Community Services Australia said the royal commission, headed by a West Australian Supreme Court Judge and former Public Service Commissioner, would encourage a wide-ranging and constructive national discussion on the future quality of aged care services.
“It is pleasing to see the terms of reference acknowledge the need to look into all aspects of aged care; issues specific to remote, rural or regional areas; caring for those with chronic or complex health needs like dementia, as well as hearing from younger people with disabilities living in residential care,” ACSA CEO Pat Sparrow said in a statement.
Leading Age Services Australia, which represented the face of the aged care industry in the recent bruising ABC Four Corners investigation into aged care, offered its full support to the commissioners.
“This Royal Commission will play a key role in identifying how to make Australia’s aged care system better,” CEO Sean Rooney said.
Anglicare Australia said it would work with the inquiry. “It is clear that the community expects quality aged care. This Royal Commission is our opportunity to answer that call,” executive director Kasy Chambers said.
Catholic Health Australia CEO Suzanne Greenwood said the organisation supported the “high expectations” placed on the commission by the government.
“The government’s pledge to ensure Australians have access to the levels of care and support that each person would expect for themselves is entirely in step with community expectations and is an approach that is applauded by CHA,” she said in a video message.
Consumer groups also expressed optimism after terms of reference were revealed, covering a broad sweep of topics ranging from abuse to workforce issues and the increasing incidence of dementia.
“The commission will cover care for people in aged care facilities, in-home care services and care for young Australians with disabilities living in residential aged care,” the acting CEO of National Seniors Australia Professor John McCallum said.
“It will inquire into all forms of Commonwealth-funded aged care, wherever they are delivered.
“This is a comprehensive brief and one that will provide some challenges. But we believe it is achievable.”
COTA Australia said the commission represented a watershed moment in the history of aged care policy and reform.
However COTA’s CEO Ian Yates warned it must not be used as an excuse by the government not to “sit on its hands” and use it as an excuse not to act urgent reforms already identified in a raft of previous reviews including the Tune Review and the Carnell/Paterson Report.
The former head of the Aged Care Workforce Strategy Taskforce, John Pollaers, expressed concern about the inquiry’s timeframe.
“the public need to know – 2020 is too long to wait,” he tweeted. “@ScottMorrisonMP @billshortenmp are you prepared to close the c$3.5b workforce funding shortfall More Nurses, Holistic Care up from 2.9 to 4.3 hours/day and an end to Home Care waiting lists.”
Lawyers, in the meantime urged providers to start preparing. “The release of the terms of reference reinforces the need to commence preparations now, particularly with regard to records of historical complaints,” Hynes Legal said.
Govt to push ahead with current reforms
Asked by Community Care Review at Tuesday’s media conference whether the royal commission meant the move to a single quality framework and establishment of independent quality regulator would be put on ice during the inquiry, Mr Morrison said the government intended to “push ahead” with all existing reforms.
That appeared to be the case on Wednesday with the Senate Community Affairs Legislation Committee holding an all-day hearing in Canberra into the Aged Care Quality and Safety Commission Bill.
The committee is scheduled to hear evidence from a range of stakeholders including the community legal centres, the AMA, peak industry and consumer bodies the health department and the aged care complaints commissioner.
Commissioners Justice Joseph McGrath and Lynelle Briggs will hand down an interim report next October with a final report due by 30 April 2020. They have been directed to begin the Adelaide-based inquiry “as soon as practicable”.
Do you think the royal commission will make a difference? Vote in the poll on our home page or leave a comment below.