Do we have an aged care gulag?


From the 1920s to the early 1950s millions of innocent people in the USSR were sent to the forced labour camps in Siberia, which were the subject of a famous book by Russian author Alexandr Solzhenitsyn and which he called the 'Gulag Archipelago'.

We have a gulag of sorts. In the sense that thousands of innocent Australians, older Australians, may be in unlawful detention. No, they are not an army of forced labour, as Stalin had demanded. They are an army of people whose right to movement and to self determination has been taken from them. That is an essential, a fundamental right of all Australians.

However, those who inhabit dementia specific rooms, locked wards, wings or whatever they may be called, across our free and democratic country and who are not there by their own consent, or consent by another person who has legal authority to do so,  given in advance, or because they may pose a danger to themselves or others, are therefore unlawfully imprisoned.

Neither the Minister, nor the Department of Health, nor the Providers, nor the Aged Care Quality and Safety Commission have done anything to address this problem. It remains to be seen whether the Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality & Safety will require any of them to do something to remedy this iniquity. 

There are approximately 220,000 people in residential aged care. Of those, more than half have a diagnosis of dementia.  Of that half, we don't know how many are to be found in dementia specific rooms, wards, or other spaces which they inhabit, but from which they must seek permission to leave. Of that cohort, how many are there by consent? My guess is about half, or about 55,000 people. It can only be a guess because there are no published figures. Think about the size of Wagga Wagga, Bundaberg or Port Macquarie.

Remember, the dividing line is consent, unless there is an imminent need to protect the person or others. Otherwise, it is unlawful.

Why do we tolerate this insidious, malignant disease infecting our democracy in this great country?

Rodney Lewis, Elderlaw Legal services, Sydney