Australian elderly care under scrutiny

A Royal Commission is currently underway in Australia to examine “Aged Care Quality and Safety”.  The Commission began in October 2018, and aims to complete a final report by April 2020.  It has wide reaching aims to examine the quality and safety for the elderly living in residential care as well as living at home.  This will include examining whether care is substandard, whether there are any systemic failures and how best to deliver care using technology, investment in the sector/workforce and innovative models of care.

Recently the Commission has heard evidence that care homes in Australia are often overly concerned by safety at the expense of quality of life for residents, and that this is leading to a pattern of institutionalisation for many residents.  Care homes may be concerned that residents do not injure themselves for example.  In order to ensure this does not happen, residents are physically restrained (the Commission heard evidence of for example dressing gowns being tucked into chairs) or chemically restrained (i.e. by using medication to address behavioural concerns).

Suggestions to the Commission to avoid these issues included residents or their families signing disclaimers regarding personal injury if for example a resident wanted to be able to walk around freely.  This seems an easy solution to the problem, although thinking of it in the UK context of civil liability, it would be tricky to draft a disclaimer that covered all eventualities.  In addition, residents care needs are likely to fluctuate and change depending on their current state of health so a disclaimer that was applicable one week might not be the following week.

The Royal Commission is a worthwhile and useful exercise in forward planning at national level for an ever increasing elderly population, and it will be interesting to see what the Commissions’ final conclusions are next year, and whether any lessons can be learned for the UK’s care sector.  This is particularly relevant taking into account the continuing concern over the way vulnerable people are being treated highlighted yesterday once again by Panorama.

Further details of the Commission can be found here.

Authored by partner Michelle Penn and associate Jennifer Johnston

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