No action from Federal Government on Aged Care review

Jul 27, 2023
Australian coat of arms on glass exterior.

In Canberra, Friday is the traditional day for taking out the trash. It is thus not surprising that Aged Care Minister Anika Wells chose Friday 21 July as the day to release the capability review of the Aged Care Quality and Safety Commission.

Despite having had the report on her desk since 31 March (16 weeks), the Minister’s media release is only seven paragraphs long and does not provide a substantive response to the review.

The first paragraph tells us that “Quality and safety in aged care is of utmost importance”. Hardly a novel thought.

In the second the Minister welcomes the review – even though she had already announced its arrival on 20 April.

The third paragraph states that the review was “brought forward” in October last year. While David Tune AO was announced as the reviewer on 14 October last year, Minister Wells actually announced the review on 28 July last year.

It has thus been a week short of a year between announcing the review and releasing its findings. It took 11 weeks to announce the reviewer, who then took 24 weeks (including the Christmas/New Year holiday period) to complete the report, which has then taken 16 weeks to be released by the Minister. In other words, deciding on and announcing the reviewer and considering the report before release took longer than the conduct of the review.

The fourth paragraph in the media release puts the best possible spin on the findings of the review, observing that it identified “gaps to overcome to ensure the Commission can successfully undertake its important role of ensuring the safety and wellbeing of older Australians”.

Tune begins his summary of what needs to happen by stating that:

“To become a trusted, high performing regulator, the Commission must as a matter of urgency take action to fix its organisational structure, senior leadership, and internal governance. It needs strategic, visible leadership, and a focus on being engaged right across the sector and community, in an open and transparent way”.

He then goes on to identify major shortfalls in workforce, ICT, the Serious Incident Response Scheme, and complaints management. Reading the report I got the sense of chasms, not gaps.

In the fifth paragraph the Minister states that she “welcome[s] the practical and constructive recommendations from Mr Tune, and will be carefully considering each of them as a matter of priority”.

Great news! Only on 20 April the Minister said that “we are carefully considering the report and working our way through the recommendations”. So there has already been four months of careful consideration, with more to come.

In the sixth paragraph the Minister tells us that:

“As a first step, I have directed the department to establish a senior level Steering Group (Recommendation 2.1) to advise Government on prioritisation and implementation of the recommendations”.

Finally, the media release notes that the 2023–24 Budget included $1.3 million for “implementation support” for the report and $19.8 million for the Aged Care Quality and Safety Commission for assessors.

Back in April, when announcing she had received the report, Minister Wells said that “the full report will be released with the Government’s response in due course”.

It now appears that the Government’s response is to establish a Steering Group.

It is worth remembering that the capability review was a recommendation of the Aged Care Royal Commission. However, it recommended that the review should have been commissioned by 1 May 2021, and its recommendations implemented by 1 January 2022 (recommendation 104).

So nineteen months after the Royal Commission recommended implementation of the findings of a capability review of the quality regulator should be completed, a Steering Group is going to advise Government on what should be prioritised.

And despite four months of careful consideration of the recommendations, we still have no idea of the Government’s position on them – apart from the recommendation to establish a Steering Group.

A fully effective safety and quality regulator is essential to ensuring that the aged care sector is delivering safe, high quality care. The capability review reveals that a lot of work is needed before the regulator can be considered fully effective.

I would feel a lot more confident that the work would be carried out if the Minister’s media release had explicitly accepted the review recommendations, indicated that funding had been allocated to them, and set out a timetable for implementation. That is the sort of media release to go out mid-week.

A Friday media release committing to nothing but a further process suggests nothing very much will happen any time soon.

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