Thousands of serious incidents reported to aged care watchdog

Tens of thousands of serious incidents were reported to the aged care watchdog under a new scheme established to prevent and reduce abuse and neglect in residential facilities.

More than 37,800 “serious incident notifications” were received by the Aged Care Quality and Safety Commission during last financial year, according to data published in a report by the Productivity Commission assessing the efficiency and effectiveness of key government services.

Most notifications were related to the unreasonable use of force.

The Serious Incident Response Scheme was introduced in mid-2021 and requires federal government subsidised residential aged care services to systematically report incidents including neglect, psychological or emotional abuse, financial coercion by staff, restrictive practices, and inappropriate sexual conduct.

However, the report notes that the number of notifications received “does not necessarily correlate to the number of instances of harm to an older person in aged care”.

“Reports might include multiple notifications of the same matter, allegations of incidents, and situations where incidents occurred but injury was avoided,” the report states.

Quality standards unmet by many providers

During the same period, the Aged Care Quality and Safety Commission received more than 10,300 complaints, while published data also shows a declining number of providers were issued top-tier re-accreditation status.

The report released by the Productivity Commission on Tuesday sheds new light on the problem-plagued aged care sector, with less than half of the residential aged care sites audited in New South Wales (NSW) last financial year meeting standards for personal and clinical care.

Since 2019, Commonwealth subsidised aged care providers have been marked on their compliance with eight “quality standards”.

In 2021-22, only 62 per cent of residential aged care sites nationally achieved the benchmark for personal and clinical care, 68 per cent for organisational governance, 70 per cent for human resources and 86 per cent for consumer dignity and choice.

However, the figures from Australia’s largest state are more alarming, with only 46 per cent of the 184 sites reviewed in NSW meeting requirements for safe and effective personal care, while just over half were deemed to have a skilled and qualified workforce to meet consumer needs.

The report notes that COVID-19 may have affected the measurement of compliance with aged care quality standards.

The amount spent on aged care per “older person” decreased slightly to $5570 compared to $5594 the year before.

More than one million incidents reported to NDIS watchdog

In addition to aged care, the Productivity Commission’s report card assessed the performance of the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS), and other services including child protection, youth justice.

Government spending on the rapidly growing NDIS exceeded $29 billion last financial year, while the number of people accessing the scheme grew by more than 68,000 to 534,655.

During that period, the NDIS Quality and Safeguards Commission received almost 1.5 million notifications about the use of unauthorised restrictive practices, including environmental, chemical and environmental restraints.

Thousands more notifications relating other serious incidents including abuse and neglect and allegations of unlawful physical and sexual contact were made.

Support committed to NDIS participants averaged $69,000, however, for those in need of supported independent living that cost increased six times.

Data from 2018 referenced in the report indicates one third of participants needed more formal assistance, while only 77 per cent were satisfied with the quality of support they received.

Following the release of the damning aged care royal commission, the federal government pledged to stop people aged under 65 from ending up in residential aged care unless in “exceptional circumstances”.

According to the Productivity Commission’s report, there were 2935 people under 65 years of age in permanent residential aged care at the middle of last year, with the overwhelming majority aged over 50 years.

Approval times for first plans for NDIS participants improved, taking an average of 48 days compared to 69 days in 2020.

Michael Brennan, chair of the Productivity Commission, said the data contained in the report helped ensure accountability and informs government spending.

“Understanding the quality and safety of the services that support some of the most vulnerable members of our community is an important part of ensuring that the significant investments governments make in these services are effective,” he said.

“Understanding the impact that this government expenditure is having on the lives of Australians is critical to understanding value for money for the community.

“As governments everywhere manage increasing fiscal constraints, it’s more important than ever before to know money is being well spent,” Mr Brennan said.

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