DOCUMENTS released under Freedom of Information laws show that the trial by the Department of Social Services (DSS) to reduce regulation of nursing homes will expose residents to serious risk.
As part of the Innovation Hub trial to reduce quality checks on nursing homes, complaints by residents or families to the Aged Care Complaints Scheme will be referred back to the home in question for resolution, including those that identify serious risk to resident health and safety. Providers that are the subject of complaints identifying serious risk will have to "satisfy the Scheme that it has appropriate strategies in place to mitigate the risk prior to the Scheme referring the matter to the provider for resolution”. Presumably, this could be done over the phone.
This change exposes residents to potential harm and contradicts DSS’s assurances that "protection of care recipients will not be reduced” and that "the priority of government is always the safety, health and wellbeing of care recipients”.
There is no way to ensure that resident safety is upheld when complaints identifying serious risk to residents are not investigated by the Scheme on site. There is also nothing stopping providers from downplaying or dismissing complaints raised by residents when there is no formal investigation. This is why we have a complaints scheme so that providers are held to account.
Residents and families will be able to go to the Aged Care Commissioner if they’re unhappy with how their complaint has been handled, but this is just another step that they’ll need to take to have their concerns addressed, delaying any resolution of serious complaints.
The documents released reveal that reaccreditation could be reduced to once every five years. Currently reaccreditation must be done at least once every three years.
This would see accreditation reports published once every five years. Accreditation reports are the only piece of publicly-available information which gives some idea of what life inside the nursing home is like.
Therefore, prospective residents and their families will have to rely on information which may be five years’ old to make a decision about a nursing home. So, while the Australian Government trumpets its goal of giving older people more choice when it comes to aged care, it is simultaneously reducing the information available on which to base that choice.
Finally, assessment of staffing levels will be done in the provider’s head office rather than on site. This is because staffing levels are considered to be part of an operator’s "corporate policies and procedures” and better dealt with at their head office.
This would see even less scrutiny of staffing. A key issue for residents and their families is that staffing drops to dangerous levels at night and on weekends. But quality checks only take place during business hours meaning that assessors rarely get an accurate picture of overall staffing.
Annual unannounced visits will continue, even under this regulation reduction trial. But reports from these checks are not published, nor do they check a home’s performance against all the standards.
It is very difficult to see how this regulation reduction trial will help aged care recipients and their families. It is telling that these documents detailing the trial were only released under Freedom of Information law. If the trial is such great news for care recipients, why hide the detail?