16 Sep 2018

'Bruising information' expected in Australian aged care inquiry

7:25 pm on 16 September 2018

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison has announced a royal commission into the country's aged care system.

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A royal commission will look into the care of elderly and disabled people in Australia. Photo: AFP/ Arman Zhenikeyev

The inquiry will focus on residential and in-home aged care for seniors, but will also cover care for young people with disabilities who live in aged care homes.

Mr Morrison said he had been particularly shocked by a "disturbing" trend of non-compliance and failures in the aged care sector, highlighted in briefings he had received over the three weeks since he became prime minister.

He said authorities had closed one aged care centre a month since the Oakden nursing home scandal, and an increasing number were under sanction.

"I think we should brace ourselves for some pretty bruising information about the way our loved ones, some of them, have experienced some real mistreatment," Mr Morrison said.

"And I think that's going to be tough for us all to deal with. But you can't walk past it."

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Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison expects an inquiry into the country's aged care system will expose some "real mistreatment" of seniors and people with disabilities. Photo: AFP

Next week will mark one year since South Australia's Oakden nursing home was closed.

Following that scandal, the Federal Government has been reviewing quality of care and regulatory processes in the sector.

Aged Care Minister Ken Wyatt has defended his about-face on the need for a royal commission.

About a month ago, he said it would be an unnecessary move because the government was already reviewing the sector.

"A royal commission, after two years and maybe $200 million being spent on it, will come back with the same set or a very similar set of recommendations," he said.

But today, standing next to Mr Morrison at the announcement of a royal commission, he said he fully backed the inquiry.

"You ask the simple question: How widespread is this? How far and wide does it go? Does it touch on the whole sector?" Mr Morrison said.

"Now, until we can have clear answers to those questions, I think Australians will be unsure."

The inquiry will also look into what can be done to prepare for the increasing demands of an aging population.

But the terms of reference, timeframe and cost have not yet been determined. Mr Morrison said they would be worked out over the next few weeks, in consultation with the sector.

The Council on the Ageing (COTA), an advocacy group for older people, said the inquiry would bring more horrific cases to light.

"The revelations of the Oakden nursing home in South Australia, they were appalling, and there will be more of that, there will be more of that come forward," COTA chief executive Ian Yates said.

Mr Yates said the big question would be who would pay for the improvements needed in the sector.

"I think the commission will find the industry needs to become more mature, that there needs to be more control in the hands of the consumers and their families, that we need more funding, and that we have different expectations than previous generations did about what aged care is," he said.

"We want a much more diverse and high quality aged care system and the question it will have to ponder is, who's going to pay for that and in what proportions?"

Opposition Leader Bill Shorten welcomed the move and said he was worried about the impact of low wages for aged care staff, the number of qualified people in the aged care homes, and Federal Government funding cuts.

Advocate Charli Darragh, whose mother Marie was killed by a lethal dose of insulin at a Ballina nursing home in 2014, has been fighting for CCTV and better staff-to-patient ratios for more than four years.

She said she didn't realise the extent of elder abuse until she was contacted by scores of people with tragic stories.

"It wasn't until Mum's murder that I discovered there's no-one out there fighting for these buggers - no-one," she said.

In 2016, ex-nurse Megan Haines was found guilty of killing Marie Darragh, 82, and Isabella Spencer, 77, at St Andrews Village nursing home.

Ms Darragh said while there were many "beautiful" nurses, carers and staff in nursing homes, there were also "evil angels" working in the sector.

"They don't care," she said.

"I don't even know why they're in this industry."


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