By Linda Belardi.
In the hour-long address, Buttrose said basic human rights violations and examples of discrimination were occurring every day and the majority of facilities were failing to properly care for people with dementia.
She said nearly one in four residents were chemically restrained often without their consent, and the sector could be open to a class action over the number of deaths in care resulting from the misuse of antipsychotics.
“It is unacceptable that such practices are taking place today in Australia,” she told the national press club last week. She said antipsychotic medication provide a clinical benefit to only one in five people and were associated with an increased risk of falls, stroke and death.
She urged the government to urgently address “long-standing disquiet” about the quality of residential aged care, particularly for those with severe behavioural and psychological symptoms of dementia.
“It is imperative that we have a high quality residential care system that respects the rights of residents. I don’t believe that is the case now,” she told the audience in Canberra.
An example of inadequate standards she said was highlighted in the ABC’s Lateline program earlier this month, which recounted the failure of some aged care managers to appropriately manage violent behaviour and to protect the rights of both carers and the person with dementia.
In consulting with the community, Buttrose said she was also told that within weeks of entering residential care, many carers found that their loved ones had become “unrecognisable, in terms of their physical, mental and emotional welfare.”
Buttrose condemned Australia’s high rate of institutionalisation of older people compared to other OECD countries and called for more people to be supported in the community.
She said more focus was needed to implement additional high care community packages for people who otherwise would have no option but to move into residential care.
“In spite of decades of rhetoric about increasing choice and community care…Australia continues to lead the way with the numbers of older people living in institutions,” she said.
In 2009, 54 per cent of Australians requiring long-term care received such care in their homes – 10 per cent below the OECD average – and considerably behind countries like Japan (77 per cent), Norway (76 per cent) and Switzerland (71 per cent).
With a mindset locked into “institutional and residential care models of the previous century”, Buttrose said the Australia was failing to empower older people to exercise choice in the services and support they need.
“We need governments to adopt less regulatory approaches and to promote a partnership approach between consumers and providers. We need the community to be less risk adverse in its attitudes to the provision of support and care. And we need service providers who recognise the individual requiring care as an equal partner.”
Rod Hunt, a consultant at Hunt & Fitzgerald and former deputy CEO at St Ann’s Homes in Tasmania, said Buttrose made a serious contribution to the national conversation on aged care, but he questioned the fairness of some of her statements.
“She has implied that the accreditation system doesn’t work or is ineffective. Her allegations about breaches of human rights are of great concern,” he wrote on his blog, ‘ideas in aged and community care’ in response to the address.
He said Buttrose’s speech had rocked some staff and residents in the sector, who felt their work and home had been unfairly criticised. More broadly, it had the potential to reinforce negative public views and to undermine public support for the industry.
“I don’t think that anyone could listen to the Buttrose address without feeling concerned about the quality of our system and the treatment of individuals within it,” he wrote.
However, he said Buttrose gave few details about the basis for statements apart from anecdotal information, and much of what she said did not accord with his experience as an aged care manager and industry association board member.
“If the Buttrose view is correct then as a society we must take swift corrective action. If it is not then the record should be corrected,” said Hunt.
Read the full transcript of Ms Buttrose’s address here
At the national press club address, Ms Buttrose also launched the Alzheimer’s Australia election campaign document, which aims to:
- Increase the growth of community care high care packages
- Expand access to flexible dementia-friendly respite care
- Give priority to improving the quality of residential dementia care
- Secure the agreement of health ministers to a new national action framework on dementia
- Invest $200 million over five years in dementia research.