Redraft of aged care law needed to improve care

The Aged Care Act 1997 needs to be rewritten to improve safety and quality in aged care says the Australian Lawyers Alliance (ALA) ahead of the release of the preliminary report of the Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety.

“The evidence presented to the Royal Commission has highlighted the urgent need for reform,” said ALA spokesperson and medical negligence lawyer, Catherine Henry. “Aged care industry representatives are saying that increased government funding for the sector is the priority but a new – or substantially revised – Act, meaningful regulatory structures and attention to staffing issues are just as critical.”

The Act is the overarching legislation that outlines the obligations and responsibilities of aged care providers in order to receive government funding.

“An underlying cause of the systemic problems in aged care is the Aged Care Act 1997 itself. It is weighted in favour of providers and has promoted the privatisation of services and competition allowing profits to prevail over quality of care,” said Ms Henry.

“Despite 30 enquiries into aged care in the 20+ years since the Act was introduced, the legislation has pretty well nothing to say about regulation. The body charged with the responsibility for regulation, the Aged Care Quality & Safety Commission, lacks independence.

“Many say that the most significant reform issue for the aged care sector is staffing – both skills and staffing levels – and many residential aged care facilities operate with dangerously low staff numbers. Yet the Act only requires that ‘sufficient’ staff are on hand to provide necessary care. ‘Sufficient’ is an unhelpful measurement of the staffing needed to provide appropriate levels of care.

“It is legislation written for aged care providers by aged care providers – and this has resulted in a worrying imbalance of power between the provider and the care recipient.

“Rewriting the legislation would provide the opportunity to address key reform issues needing to be pushed forward –regulation, staffing and transparent data on key clinical indicators.”

The ALA is a national association of lawyers, academics, and other professionals dedicated to protecting and promoting justice, freedom and the rights of the individual.

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