Australia’s Charter of Aged Care Rights fails as a human rights approach for older people, according to a discussion of experts from around the world.

The Monash University’s faculty of law held a webinar on the human rights of older people in aged care on Tuesday featuring a panel of international human rights experts.

Monash University Head of Health Law and Ageing Research Professor Joseph Ibrahim said the Australia’s existing charter of rights for aged care was inadequate.

Joseph Ibrahim

“The charter of rights that’s been written for residents does not fulfil what I consider to be the human rights approach. It’s not enough just to say you’re entitled to a warm home and food and that people listen to you,” Professor Ibrahim told the Change Makers: The Human Rights of Older Persons in Aged Care webinar.

“To me a human rights approach is, here are the list of rights. This is the enforcement or regulatory mechanism. These are the sanctions or rewards for people to adhering to them. This is how we review whether they are or aren’t in place and you as the individual get to have a say in each of those steps,” Professor Ibrahim said.

It’s not enough to just say an older person has a right to autonomy, he said.

“The notion of rights does not quite convey or crossover to me what human rights ought to be,” Professor Ibrahim said.

Dr Claudia Mahler speaking at the Change Makers: The Human Rights of Older Persons in Aged Care webinar

Dr Claudia Mahler, United Nations independent expert on the enjoyment of human rights by older persons, said the lack of a binding international instrument dedicated to the human rights of older people was a contributing factor.

“The human rights framework we have now needs a lot of interpretation and does not give guidance in a very clear way how to implement these standards on an international level,” Dr Mahler said.

Trained workforce essential to human rights

Jane Buchanan speaking at the Change Makers: The Human Rights of Older Persons in Aged Care webinar

Also on the panel, Human Rights Watch deputy director of the disability rights division Jane Buchanan said an appropriately staffed workforce trained in human rights was key to avoiding chemical restraints.

“It’s absolutely essential,” Ms Buchanan told the webinar.

Ms Buchanan said research undertaken by Human Rights Watch showed only the minimum tasks were completed that when staff training was insufficient.

However, she said some countries have eased requirements on staff training during COVID-19 to ensure enough people are working.

“It’s hard to even call them staff because they may have only had a few hours of training before they’re put into nursing home, and they’re responsible for the lives of many people,” Ms Buchanan said.

Professor Ibrahim echoed Ms Buchanan’s comments but said staff must also be supported by their leaders.

“There’s no question we need more staff, we need better trained staff and staff with a greater level of empathy to work in that field. But they need the support of their supervisors, managers and the owners to generate that,” he said.

Monash University’s Change Makers: The Human Rights of Older Persons in Aged Care webinar took place on 8 June.

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