The Federal Government has announced a Royal Commission into the management and treatment of residents in aged care homes.
The announcement came on the eve of an ABC Four Corners documentary on problems in the aged care sector. Over a five month period, the ABC sought feedback from people nationwide about aged care, receiving more than 4000 responses, including over 1000 from former aged care staff.
The feedback was far from complimentary. Lack of staff and insufficient training were cited frequently as a major problem. In some cases, staff had only 6 minutes to wash and dress each resident, leaving some not showering daily, or even for days at a stretch.
Another hygiene issue was the supply of continence pads. One former worker said her home had a policy of issuing only three continence pads a day.
Many people said they were worried about the quantity and quality of food provided. Some “meals” consisted of a chunk of garlic bread, a hotdog and tomato sauce, or a couple of party pies with a handful of chips.
Research by dietician Dr Cherie Hugo on more than 800 aged care facilities found, on average, homes were only spending about $6 a day on food per resident, $2 less than prisoners, and $11 less than other adults in the community.
Also, strong medications normally reserved for people with major psychotic problems were often used to manage around 80% of residents with dementia and delirium. These drugs can cause a variety of side effects, including an increased risk of stroke, balance problems, and pneumonia.
Dementia Australia CEO, Maree McCabe said unfortunately the themes of overuse of anti-psychotics, understaffing and the lack of training are not new.
More than 50% of Australians in residential aged care live with dementia, and a large number have multiple health conditions. Ms McCabe said there needs to be a fundamental shift in the approach to dementia healthcare education, with serious investment in training, and the introduction of dementia specific qualifications.
Minister for Health Greg Hunt says the overall number of people over 85 will grow nearly four times from 2015 to 2055, from 500,000 to 1.9 million. In an interview with Alan Jones on 2GB he called this “a grand national challenge”.
Speaking with Gareth Parker on Perth radio station 6PR, Mr Hunt dismissed the suggestion that funding for aged care was reduced by current Prime Minister Scott Morrison when he was Treasurer, or that the announcement of the Royal Commission was provoked by the Four Corners report.
It is expected the Commission will report by the second half of next year.