Traditionally, our Aged Care issue is in November and this month we would normally, in this column, be discussing how the health system can help people to live better for longer. But then along came the announcement of the Royal Commission into Aged Care Facilities.

And it’s probably not such a big stretch from discussing ‘how people can live better for longer’ to actually hoping that the Royal Commission will share those aims for elderly Australians.

Everyone will have an opinion on the need for a Royal Commission – some will see the transparency that such an inquiry brings as the only way unscrupulous and negligent operators can be exposed and brought to book; some families will be desperate to bear testament to their loved ones’ horrendous suffering so the entire horrendous scenario wouldn’t have been in vain.

Others will see a Royal Commission as yet another delay to the raft of reforms that are on the launch-pad with the clock ticking.

A case in point is the Aged Care Workforce Strategy Taskforce’s 132-page report, A Matter of Care, which was released just a few days before the PM’s announcement. It, in turn, was the result of a Senate inquiry into the Aged Care Workforce which took submissions and testament from families and whistleblowers.

The chair of the taskforce, Prof John Pollaers, said that the strategy outlined in the report could be executed in one to three years and in doing so would then position the industry for the next four to seven years. Its execution would better equip and enable the aged care workforce to support older people to live well.

So what are they advocating? Among 14 actions they include:

  • The creation of a social change campaign to reframe caring and promote the aged care workforce
  • A voluntary industry code of practice
  • Reframing the qualification and skills framework—addressing current and future competencies
  • Defining new career pathways, including how the workforce is accredited
  • Developing cultures of feedback and continuous improvement.
  • Strengthening the interface between aged care and primary/acute care
  • Establishing a remote accord
  • Current and future funding, including staff remuneration
  • Transitioning the industry and workforce to new standards

The Prime Minister has put his own Aged Care Minister in an invidious position. Ken Wyatt claimed on the ABC Four Corners investigation aired recently that action was required, not another inquiry. As we prepared this editorial for press, he and the Health Minister Greg Hunt issued a media release urging the community to have its say on the Commission’s terms of reference. They have been told.

They expect the Terms of Reference to cover:

  • The quality of care provided to older Australians, and the extent of substandard care;
  • The challenge of providing care to Australians with disabilities living in residential aged care, particularly younger people;
  • The challenge of supporting the increasing number of Australians suffering dementia;
  • The future challenges and opportunities for delivering aged care services in the context of changing demographics, including in remote, rural and regional Australia;

In their statement they say: “We acknowledge the reporting and concerns raised by the public which has informed the Ministers’ views to proceed with a Royal Commission. Incidences of older people being hurt by failures of care simply cannot be explained or excused. We must be assured about how widespread these cases are.”

Perhaps it’s time for both – a Justice and Healing process and these urgently needed reforms?

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