19 Feb 2019

Public watchdog toughens stance on detention of the vulnerable

From Nine To Noon, 9:08 am on 19 February 2019

The Ombudsman is upping his scrutiny of vulnerable people in secure care, following recent shocking cases of people with intellectual disabilities in confinement.

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Photo: The Chief Ombudsman Peter Boshier

Last year, in a major expansion of its mandate, the Office of the Ombudsman announced it would strengthen monitoring of aged care facilities by including private aged care facilities - as well as detainees in court cells.

Now the Chief Ombudsman, Peter Boshier, has announced the office will investigate the Ministry of Health's oversight of facilities for intellectually disabled people with high and complex needs.

Mr Boshier told Nine To Noon despite efforts by the Health and Disability Commissioner and the Ministry of Health, there was no industry watchdog, which meant rest homes were slipping below standards.

Mr Boshier said he would go to parliament next week to ask for funding to establish his first team. 

"We will build up our teams over the next two successive years," he said. "We will start analysing the problems, we will start looking at trends and things we want to concentrate on."

In three years' time, he expects to have enough staff to appropriately monitor standards in aged care facilities around the country.

"It will be a gradual, careful, considered process," Mr Boshier said. 

His team will look at the way vulnerable patients in aged care facilities are treated, protective measures, conditions such as stimulation and availability of sunlight, in addition to the confinement of residents and the use of restraints.

"Those are things we've done already in state-run dementia units," he said. "We have seen enough in there to make us think we will encounter areas where we will need to be very vigilant."
Mr Boshier said an increasing aged population and a rising level of concern for the aged care sector internationally meant his mandate must be undertaken carefully. 

"We must not rest on our laurels over this," he said. "I am not wishing to get ahead of myself but I am saying we have every reason to be careful."

He said he was keeping a close eye on the Australian Royal Commission into its aged care sector to see what information and trends were emerging.