June 12, 2019

Australia’s Royal Commission into Aged Care: what’s happened so far?

The Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety was established in Australia on 8 October 2018. The purpose of the Royal Commission is to consider the current state of the aged care system in Australia, and to provide a final report including recommendations by 30 April 2020.

The Royal Commission will be heard over a series of hearings, commencing on 11 February 2019 and concluding early December 2019.

Terms of Reference

The Royal Commission has broad terms of reference with respect to the quality of aged care in Australia. The Royal Commission enquiry focuses on the following:

  • the quality of aged care and whether it meets the needs of Australians;
  • the best way to deliver aged care services, particularly to Australians living with a disability or dementia;
  • the future challenges and opportunities to provide high quality aged care;
  • what can the Australian government and aged care industry can do to improve the aged care services;
  • how to ensure the aged care services are person-centred, including increased autonomy of choice and independence of individuals; and
  • how to best deliver aged care services, including opportunities for innovation.

Progress

The first substantive hearing (between 18 February to 22 February 2019) addressed the key features of aged care quality and safety, including the functioning of the complaints system. The hearing also considered the challenges faced by the aged care system, through evidence given by consumer advocacy bodies, health care provider peak bodies and regulators. The first hearing was overall very high level.

The second substantive hearing (18 March to 22 March 2019) focused on the provision of aged care services in the home. The second hearing heard evidence from first hand recipients of aged care services, which provided an insight to individual's experiences. The witnesses were able to openly criticise service providers, resulting in some media attention.

The third substantive hearing (6 May to 8 May and 13 May to 17 May) focused on care for people living with dementia. Industry experts and residents gave evidence during the course of the hearing, with the clear takeaway being that there appears to be a lack of understanding of dementia in the health and aged care sector which is likely to lead to substandard care. The hearing highlighted the importance of implementing a 'culture of care' which places the interests and dignity of the resident first.

Overall the hearings have raised the following key issues in the Australian aged care system:

  • the lack of transparency with regards to staffing, programs and funding;
  • the inefficiencies of the system with respect to access, and in particular the waiting times;
  • the inadequate training of professionals in aged care services;
  • the inadequate funding and management of the aged care system; and
  • the lack of dignity of patients in the aged care system.

The Royal Commission will continue on 17 June in Broome and will focus on care in remote areas, in particular the unique care needs of Indigenous Australians and issues of access and inclusion.

Likely impact

Given the concerns which have been raised throughout the hearings, it would not be surprising if the outcome of the Royal Commission resulted in recommendations to reform and improve aged care services standards and the accountability of aged care service providers across the industry.  

The effect of the Royal Commission has already been seen in the Federal Budget announced for 2019-2020. The Australian Government has announced an addition of AUD 282.4m to the funding of aged care. This includes an addition 10,000 home care packages which will help older people remain at home while receiving adequate treatment.

The Royal Commission's final report due in April 2020 is expected to provide a range of solutions to be implemented.