New code of conduct covering aged care workers: what you need to know

Since last year the states have been working towards adopting a national code covering the conduct of health workers, including aged care’s personal care workers. AAA reports on the progress of the code, and what it means for providers, staff and consumers.

Since last year the states have been working towards adopting a national code covering the conduct of health workers, including aged care’s personal care workers. AAA reports on the progress of the code, and what it means for providers, staff and consumers.

Personal care workers provide almost 70 per cent of the care in residential aged care facilities, major workforce surveys show, yet this growing workforce is not covered by national professional standards and there is no professional body handling misconduct.

This has been a source of debate in the sector for decades, and frequently becomes a hot topic during major reviews of the aged care workforce.

Some groups have called for mandatory registration of care workers, in the same way that nurses are registered. Australia’s health ministers decided against registration, and last year agreed to introduce a national code of conduct for unregistered health care workers to be operational by 2017.

For the first time, health care workers, including aged care’s 250,000 direct care workers, will be held accountable against a set of nationally agreed standards of conduct. Serious breaches of the code can result in a person having conditions placed on their practice or being banned from practising altogether.

Here’s what you need to know about the new scheme.

What’s the code and who does it cover?

The national code of conduct for health care workers sets out minimum standards of practice for health workers who are not currently registered under the national registration and accreditation scheme.

The statutory code of conduct will apply to anyone who provides a health service including personal care workers, assistants in nursing, speech pathologists, dietitians, allied health assistants, audiologists, social workers and massage therapists.

The code stipulates that a health care worker must provide services in a safe and ethical manner, report concerns about the conduct of other health care workers, not misinform clients, and not financially exploit clients. Read the code in full on the COAG Health Council website.

It is unlikely that someone working in an aged care facility in a purely education role will fall within the scope of the scheme.

Where the line should be drawn between health and social care was a key area of discussion throughout public consultation on the code and a number of stakeholders said they supported including all disability and aged care workers within the scope of the code, whether or not they are providing services that are clearly health-related.

States and territories contacted by Australian Ageing Agenda said they were currently working through the process of defining who would be covered by the scheme.

How will the new scheme work?

Health complaints bodies in each state and territory will be responsible for enforcing the code and will be given powers to investigate an unregistered health worker’s conduct and practice in response to a complaint against an individual.

The code will set national standards against which disciplinary action can be taken, and if necessary, a prohibition order or interim prohibition order issued.

A prohibition order can place limitations or conditions on a person’s practice or prohibit them from providing health services altogether if there is a serious risk to public health and safety. Breaches of a prohibition order can result in a fine or imprisonment.

It’s intended that a prohibition order issued in one state or territory will apply in every other state or territory, and Australia’s health ministers have agreed to establish an online national register of prohibition orders, which can be searched by employers and the general public.

In aged care, there is likely to be some intersection between the Aged Care Commissioner and the code, said health and aged care lawyer Sabine Phillips from Gadens.

For example, as part of an investigation of a complaint against a facility, a report may also be made to a state health complaints body against an individual health worker if their conduct has failed to meet the standards of the code.

What does the code mean for personal care workers?

Phillips said the scheme introduces a set of enforceable standards and therefore accountability for a worker’s actions.

“There will be accountability rather than just an expectation [about a person’s conduct], so that people that are providing care and services to our vulnerable elderly are accountable for how they act,” she told AAA.

Phillips said while many of the code’s requirements are already part of industry practice (such as training on privacy and infection control precautions), the challenge will be ensuring that all aged care workers are aware of, and understand the code.

For example, workers will need to understand that if they have an infectious disease they must take steps to ensure that clients are not put at risk, or if they’re taking prescribed medication that they obtain advice about the impact of the medication on their ability to practise.

Personal care workers will also be required to refer a colleague that is believed to be placing clients at serious risk of harm to a state health complaints entity.

What does the scheme mean for providers?

Although Australia’s health ministers have agreed to develop national explanatory materials to assist in informing staff about the scheme, it’s likely that aged care providers, as employers, will have a role in training and educating their staff about their obligations under the code.

During public consultation it was raised that occupational groups without a professional association may find it more difficult to educate their workforce, putting the onus on employers.

During recruitment, aged care employers will also need to start searching a candidate’s names on the national register of prohibition orders, to check if the person is a banned worker or has had restrictions placed on their practice in any state or territory.

In South Australia, where a code has been in operation since 2013, Aged and Community Services SA and NT said that overall it has not had a huge impact.

Natasha Forward of ACS SA and NT said the state’s providers have made sure their workers were informed about the code, but she wasn’t aware of any reports being made under it to date.

Asked whether providers were using the code during recruitment – for instance checking if a candidate had a report against them – Ms Forward acknowledged there could be better awareness of it.

“I think when the national code comes out it will help increase the relevancy of [the code] and making sure that people are aware of it, and are making a report appropriately,” she told AAA.

When does the national scheme come into force?

In April 2015, Australia’s health ministers agreed to the terms for the national code and announced it would be the responsibility of each state government to legislate for it.

They committed to a timetable of having the national scheme operational in 2017.

New South Wales, South Australia and Queensland already have statutory codes of conduct or similar in place, which were used as the basis for developing the national code. These states agreed to consider adjusting their codes and arrangements to achieve national consistency.

Ultimately it’s up to each jurisdiction to implement and progress the scheme. See AAA’s map for national progress:

moving to a national code map

Why do we need a code?

The health ministers recognised that while there are powers to cancel the registration of a registered health professional, in most states and territories there are limited avenues to deal with the incompetent or unethical behaviour of healthcare workers who are not registered.

And where prohibition orders were made, they were not enforceable in other jurisdictions, which meant workers could simply move interstate.

The intention of the national code is to strengthen regulatory oversight of these workers, without restricting entry into these occupations and facing the significant costs of registration.

While Phillips said the scheme will provide additional protection for clients, employers will still need to have stringent employment systems in place when recruiting and selecting personal care workers.

Asked how the code could be improved, Ms Forward suggested information about the code could also be made available on My Aged Care as that was the go-to point for consumers seeking information.

She also suggested clarity would be needed on whether independent care workers, who subcontracted through third party websites, would be covered under the code.

Additional reporting by Darragh O’Keeffe.

An extended version of this special report appears in the current issue of AAA magazine (May-June edition). 

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Tags: direct care workers, national code of conduct for health care workers, personal-care-workers, registration,

27 thoughts on “New code of conduct covering aged care workers: what you need to know

  1. Wondering whether any consideration has been given to how this will apply to community aged care services (e.g. Home Care Packages and Commonwealth Home Support Program)?

    Also will this apply for volunteers who provide direct services to clients?

    And will this also apply for the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Flexible Aged Care Program?

  2. Hmm,what about facility managers who bully staff and have a passive aggressive nature toward the residents and also the staff?.Where’s the accountability for them?.
    People with a nature such as that and try to lie about their hard working staff,need the sack and never to be employed under such a position ever again.

  3. What about when staff advocate for residents and it is swept under the carpet all the time. Residents laying in urine for hours day in dsy out. Residents scared by workers and residents complain and nothing is done. Grab marks on residents which are reported and still nothing is done. Who can you complain to when nothing is done.
    Or when staff are overworked doing double shifts crying out for help and managers just walk by.

  4. This is way overdue.
    There seems to be no accountability or consequences in the facility where my mother lives. I have been to the highest level of Management and the responses given to my concerns of conflict of interest, lack of respect, harassment, discrimination, victimisation, not carrying out duty of care – have been lied about, brushed aside or completely ignore after the conversation has taken place.
    There needs to be set consequences, which are enforceable by an outside body, for these situations of elderly abuse, which in our case come directly from the management.
    I have contacted the Aged Care Complaints Commission and they say they have no authority to investigate things that I have already tried to address over the past few months.

  5. Hi to all that care ,

    I am in a terrible position were I work as a PCW in an aged care facility in Brisbane.

    The stress and loss of wages for whistle-blowing is enormous.

    After stating exactly what Anonymous May 8, 2017 at 10:28 am has posted and I can understand exactly what Susanne June 6, 2017 at 12:36 pm has also posted as well as many other issues to the Manager I have suffered “for doing the right thing” .

    I am away on stress leave with no pay , I choose this because I want to keep the serious issues I have raised sorted internally ,if I went to Fair work or a Government agency it would then become an “open case” .

    I have now to do a mandatory code of conduct course as if I had done something wrong.

    It makes me sick and disgusted .

    Perhaps I should just go to A Current Affair.

  6. I am in aged care , I have a boss from hell bullying me to the point that I wanted to die …all because I complained about her .
    I have spoken up about the neglect of residents ,and now I’m enemy number 1 . I am now seek legal assistants in this matter .

  7. Wow I have just finished the course to begin a career in aged care but after reading the comments on how u are treated as a worker…. why would I?

  8. Hi all,

    In South Australia, all hell broke loose when the media the story about the Oakden Aged Care facility in May 2017.

    Maybe you can use the story as leverage when you report matters to management in the future. Use Dr Google to your advantage 🙂

  9. Hi everyone I’m am currently studying in aged care I feel it is a field of work that is lacking in available carers but after reading some of the previous comments I can understand why their is a shortage of carers. I’m starting to have second thoughts about if I should go into this field or work, its sad to think that complaints/ concerns when taken to the appropriate person/ department leaves one branded and treated like a criminal. Totally disgusting how these aged care facilities preach their code of conduct/ethics and fail to abide by either.
    So not sure about my chosen field of employment.

  10. KH I strongly advise you look for a totally choose another career. If you think you are going to be respected and appreciated working with a passion in age care you will be sorely disappointed.

  11. Hi I work in aged care also, I love my job. I too have complained about elder abuse and was reprimanded by my boss, made feel like i had done something wrong. I love my job and my residents and know at least when im at work nobody will miss treat anyone while im there. Elder abuse is real and happens every day of my work. never again in front of me because i will never go to my boss again I will be going straight to the top. I might be disliked by the carers for being a whistle blower but respected by the people that really matter my residents.

  12. These comments make me really sad. I have had 15 years experience in the care industry in the UK.
    All reports of abuse are taken seriously, Care workers are protected and supported when whistle blowing. Any care providers would face serious consequences if none compliant with the regulations and legislation re care. They are all inspected regularly and concerns and complaints are dealt with appropriately.

    Please do not give up on your dreams of making a difference to your aged and vulnerable community. They need you, be proud of yourselves for wanting to make a difference. I promise you, not all care providers are bad. Be strong and stand up for what you know is right.
    Don’t be afraid to seek guidance from the Australian Aged Care Quality Agency.
    They are there to inspect the quality of residential and care at home services and enforce good quality practice.

  13. Some of these comments make me really sad. Well done Mary 🙂

    To all you disappointed care and support workers out there. Stay strong and concentrate on the positive difference you are making to our aged and vulnerable community.
    Please speak to the Aged Care Quality Agency for guidance and advice re any concerns you feel are not being dealt with.

  14. I cant believe what we as a carer we are going through this industry, i am doing my course in Aged care and Disabilities and i have been though good things about working as a team and code of conduct, duty of care and many other rights but after reading all these comments, it look like it a battle in between management and staff itself and carers are like a ham in a sandwich can’t report to authorities and neither to management.
    Its a shame how management are treating their staffs, makes me feel so bad

  15. This hopefully will be a positive step in the industry, which has a reputation as having culture problems,. I was a manager who strived to treat my staff with respect and take time out to listen and respond to staff on staff issues and reporting of poor care. I worked hard to weed out bad staff, often only to see them pop up in another aged care home down the road! I also suffered bullying from female bosses above me in different organisations and eventually got sick of the negative blame and bullying culture. I went into the hospital system where there is a much greater emphasis on positive culture and serious consequences for bullying. I do hope things can improve with these type of changes.

  16. I am a CEO/RN and chose to specialize in Aged Care in 2009. My care manager and I both have true “open door policies” so all stakeholders know they can come to us at anytime. All stakeholders have my mobile number so they can contact me should there be an out of hours issue. We take every comment (positive and negative) seriously and they become part of our quality improvement system. All stakeholders are encouraged to provide feed back through this system, so that those making the comments are accountable for what they are reporting , and those receiving them are accountable for actions to be taken. This way all stakeholders must be mindful of the accuracy of reporting and know action will be taken. It has always been difficult when stakeholders won’t report because they are fearful of retribution. I have found, probably because I work long hours, staff , residents and visitors do stop by to let me know something, and if needed, I help them complete the quality improvement form. It is a wonderful part of our health care system in which to work, so those who are planning to become part of this privileged work, don’t give up. We need to keep pushing through so the residents receive the care they deserve, by those who deserve to be giving that care.

  17. Thank you all for sharing all your experiences.
    I feel very sad & disappointed reading all those victims of a toxic & conspiracy culture in the healthcare system. It is a systemic culture that we all have to endure for so many years like my story to the point that I am seeking the divine intervention of the HIGH COURT OF AUSTRALIA.

  18. I am pleased to see that something is planned to address the issues mentioned in previous comments, as a retired RN, in my late 70’s, now a carer of my husband, on a Level 4 Package, and also on a lower package myself I have experienced bullying and lack of respect from workers coming to our home (including gardeners) , also those in administration of Packages and when my husband has been in residential respite – recently a very rude RN , which was unexpected and unacceptable. I can only
    think she was under stress. There appears to that accountability should start with the managers, providers, and include all who are involved in Aged Care.

  19. I recently completed my aged care qualifications and was so keen to begin working in the industry. I love caring for the elderly but I am already exhausted and very disappointed in what I see in the residential facilities. The facilities are so understaffed there is barely time to complete essential care, let alone provide emotional support. Some residents are so lonely they sit crying in their rooms. Residents who need to be hoisted to use the toilet are left for hours because 2 staff are needed to hoist and there is no one to help. Consumer Choice and Dignity – Aged Care Standard 1 is very different in reality. Staff are stressed and burnt out due to the ridiculous workload expectations. More times than not tea breaks and meal breaks are non existent and if you are to complete all the documentation the facility requires you to complete you have to work well past your shift finishing time, and they won’t pay you overtime as they expect it to be done during your shift . I have quickly learnt that if you want to keep your job then you had better keep your mouth shut. Advocating for the rights of the residents is good in theory, but in reality if you document it your in trouble. It really is a damned if you do, and damned if you don’t. And for the privilege of working in a toxic environment with little training or clear facility guidelines you get a whopping $21.89 an hour though some facilities pay slightly higher rates. No wonder there are a lack of people wanting to head into the industry. And all the while our elderly are suffering.

  20. This simply reconfirmed as is now routine, that residents are no people. They need instruments and channels to activate legal, human rights, fair work systems safely. But they are my own age group and are treated by the givernment in Canberra as completely disposable and owed nothing at all as the humans who brought them up, built the world they Abuse, and make certain we are silenced in every way possible. I’m glad some people brave this toxic environment, calculated to enrich lnp donors at the very cost in all respects of the elderly fir which the government is responsible. No agency is the core

  21. The article has a valuable content, which has helped me a lot in understanding service. I think if anyone wants to become expert in Migration agents in Brisbane,then he needs to read your content consistently.

  22. I have been working in aged care for close to 20 years, started as a care worker, became an RN and work as a CNC and have steeped in to manager roles over my time. The above is disappointing to say the least.
    RN’s EEN’s are held to account – are registered and not only loos their jobs for poor standards – we can be personally liable.
    Standards for unregulated health care workers is way overdue- codes of conduct ensure that there is a consistent benchmark to be held to.
    I have worked in managers roes and seen the work ad what is required to operate behind the scenes, you are not privy to it, nor do you have the same standards to be held to. Its easy to say they walk past, if you had insight in to their Jobs you would not be so quick to call them toxic bullies ect.
    I was a PC- and know the role in side and out
    I have seen the best and worst in unregulated employees- we should all be held accountable- have codes of conduct to hold ourselves to basic standards for all aged care staff – PC to facility manager and all in between.
    If you struggle with the thought of having to follow a code of conduct – I dont want to work with you its time to leave aged care if you don’t want standards

  23. what people need to understand agencies cover up for nursing homes
    if a nursing home gets a bad rap in 2019 the accrediated for next 3 Years as age care say they have had trainning to improve and then make same errors in 2022 how can this place not be sanctioned
    when report done in 2021 was not good, more trainning
    it appears this home did not learn anything
    and covered up by all agencies to a certain degree
    bullying by management who h backfired on them
    no consequences
    so nursing homes are run as a business that’s for sure
    no cameras
    bad ratios
    poor skill mix and the Royal Commission all agengies are aware of

  24. Anonymous
    Why not have cameras installed in all age care facility in all areas especially in residential rooms and be monitored daily by the facility manager so that our residents are not left unattended for prolong period of time eg left sitting/laying on a bedpan. These recorded camera-based evidence should have a feature where the recorded images cannot be erased. It will serve a purpose for in-house training and for relevant auditors. This will ensure the safety of our vulnerable citizens who do not have a voice.

  25. My dad’s carer took my dad to have a will drawn up, 3 years after his Dementia diagnoses, with the carer as the sole beneficiary. I’ve made complaint after complaint about this woman flirting with my dad, using sexual innuendo and suggestions, lying about family and friends to isolate my dad and make him fearful of any visitors. My complaints have been ignored, and or hand balled to somebody else. The police said they could do nothing, it’s a civil matter. The OPA told me that, dad’s carer, lying to him is not a crime. The system is screwed in favor of scammers.
    How this carer, putting her details as next of kin, with no other relatives, on hospital paperwork hasn’t raised alarm bells at the hospital is disturbing.
    Hospital staff new their were relatives, because we changed the contact details the 1st time the carer listed herself as next of kin. Then Dan locked down the metro Melbourne, and we were unable to visit him.

  26. 1800 Elder Help is a national free call phone number that automatically redirects callers seeking information and advice about the abuse of older people with an existing phone line service in their state or territory. Connect to the helpline by calling 1800 353 374 or your state or territory support service.

    Compass is a knowledge hub created by Elder Abuse Action Australia, guiding action on the abuse of older people across the nation. Click to explore the knowledge hub.

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