A new single independent quality and safety commission will oversee aged care regulation, compliance and complaints from January next year, the government has announced.
The new cost-neutral reforms also include enhanced risk profiling of providers, developing options for a Serious Incident Response Scheme and a performance rating system for providers accompanied by a comparison tool for consumers on My Aged Care.
The measures were recommended by the Carnell-Paterson Review, which was ordered after the serious failures at the Oakden facility in Adelaide, and follows the recent introduction of unannounced re-accreditation audits in residential aged care, also recommended by Carnell and Paterson.
AAA has confirmed the announced measures are cost neutral to government, however no further details of the funding arrangements were provided.
The Aged Care Quality and Safety Commission will bring together the functions of the Australian Aged Care Quality Agency, Aged Care Complaints Commissioner and aged care regulatory functions of the Department of Health. A proposal for an independent aged care regulator was also a recommendation of the 2011 Productivity Commission inquiry.
The new body will be led by an independent Aged Care Quality and Safety Commissioner who will report to the Minister for Aged Care and be supported by an advisory group and a new Chief Clinical Advisor.
The commission aims to drive better coordination between all involved in aged care, increase transparency and sharing of information, provide a single point of contact to aged care recipients and their families and provide greater protections to seniors in care, said the government.
Minister for Aged Care Ken Wyatt said the new commission would be a responsive “one-stop shop” to prevent failures, highlight quality concerns and work with aged care providers to have them quickly rectified.
“We recognise that the vast majority of providers give consistent, quality care to their residents. But, as we have seen, there can be failures. We must ensure that disasters like Oakden are never repeated,” Mr Wyatt said.
A new taskforce within the Department of Health will oversee the reforms to ensure the new commission is in place by 1 January 2019.
Minister Wyatt also announced that options for a Serious Incident Response Scheme would be developed in consultation with providers for the reporting and investigation of alleged incidents of abuse and neglect in aged care.
The Serious Incident Response Scheme was recommended by both the Carnell-Paterson review and the 2016 Australian Law Reform Commission report on elder abuse (read more here).
Enhanced risk profiling of aged care providers to determine the frequency and rigour of visits and ensure a more timely response to quality failures will also be implemented.
Consumers will be able to see how a provider’s performance rates against the quality standards and access “a user-friendly provider comparison tool” on My Aged Care Website, according to the announcement.
Provider peaks have welcomed the establishment of a new independent commission to centralise accreditation, compliance and complaints handling, but have reiterated concerns over the proposed Serious Incident Response Scheme and a provider rating system.
Aged & Community Services Australia CEO Pat Sparrow said there was little evidence the proposed SIRS outlined in both the Carnell-Paterson and ALRC reports would improve residents’ quality of care.
“Refinements to the existing scheme [for reporting abuse in residential care] may achieve that aim more effectively than introducing an entirely new one,” Ms Sparrow said.
Similarly, Leading Age Services Australia CEO Sean Rooney said implementing a SIRS could place new and extended reporting responsibilities on providers without adequately considering the arrangements already in place.
“Several mechanisms already exist to report issues if they arise so the proposed SIRS program needs to be further investigated to determine what additional value it brings to the system.”
Ms Sparrow said the performance rating system and comparison tool needed to add value to the quality system by being fair and accurate for providers with meaningful information for consumers.
A greater understanding of what consumers valued and how they could best get accurate information to assist decision-making was needed to inform a rating system, Mr Rooney said.
Consumer advocacy body COTA Australia chief executive Ian Yates welcomed the government’s announcement as “another significant step towards the better monitoring and enforcement of quality in Australia’s aged care system.”
He said a consumer commissioner within the new commission – as recommended by the Carnell and Paterson Review – was also needed to make it easier and normal practice for consumers and families to be involved.
“The atrocities at Oakden were only brought to light thanks to the tenacity and persistence of Oakden family members, demonstrating the importance of having strong consumer voices heard in aged care quality processes,” Mr Yates said.
AAA has sought clarification on whether the government is adopting the Carnell-Paterson’s proposed model for an Aged Care Safety and Quality Commissioner in full, which includes the consumer commissioner role.
On the new provider ratings system, Mr Yates said it was appropriate the new commission explained how individual providers complied with the quality standards expected of them in a way that consumers could easily understand.
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