A national shame

This morning the Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety heard that there are around 50 cases of sexual assault in age care facilities across Australia a week.

The Royal Commision was created by the Federal Parliament to formally research allegations of poor and abusive treatment of residents in aged care.

A live webcast was streamed this morning, in which Senior Counsel Assisting, Peter Rozen QC, summarised the submissions from experts and members of the community.

A 475-page report, documenting the points Mr Rozen made was also published today. It described input from community forums (addressed by 641 witnesses), researchers, public hearings, roundtables and submissions from members of the public. It also included 124 recommendations that the Commissioners will consider.

At the end of the commission process in 2021, a comprehensive report outlining recommendations will be tabled in Federal Parliament.

Mr Rozen told the inquiry what marks a civil society is how the most vulnerable are treated.

Photo: Peter Rozen QC during the live webcast.

He explained that auditing firm KPMG was engaged in 2018–19 by the Australian Government to estimate the number of resident-on-resident assaults. It surveyed 178 residential aged care services and extrapolated from the data.

Adding the data from this study to reported assault allegations for the same period, he estimated that there were around 50 incidents of unlawful sexual contact taking place in aged care each week.

In the submissions many witnesses explained that they placed their loved ones into residential aged care because they felt that it would be safer for them or because safety was a concern.

Mr Rozen said: “This is a national shame. One in five nursing homes residents are receiving poor care and treatment.”

He added that these figures are concerning and is “entirely unacceptable that people in residential aged care face a substantially higher risk of assault than people living in the community.

“As disturbing as these figures are, the evidence of the lack of follow-up by the Australian Government department that receives the reports is, if anything, worse.”

Murdoch University senior lecturer in global politics and policy Ian Cook said sometimes the recommendations from royal commissions get tabled and disappear.

“Sometimes no one hears of them again and nothing is done. It is in fact very rare for all the recommendations to be adopted because royal commissions can sometimes make very big or expensive recommendations,” he said

Dr Cook said political calculations could influence how many recommendations were adopted.

“At the point when the government starts to decide ‘what are the consequences of ignoring this issue’ or if the media is not interested in it the story, it can disappear quickly.

“Here the calculation is whether sexual assaults in age care homes are an issue.”

He said royal commissions have no official authority or power other than producing a document and sometimes when they ask for things that are politically-not-possible, or not a high priority, the recommendations are not adopted.

“If they ask for things like full funding for age care homes or covering the cost of constant surveillance around sexual assaults in age care homes, the government will wipe it out.”

Asked whether he thought the recommendations of this Royal Commission would be adopted he said: “I think to an extent because of the COVID issue and all the economics, we have got other things to worry about, and at this time we might not see much action.”

Seniors Recreation Council of WA’s tech savvy seniors project manager Martin Yates said more light should be shed on the issue because he believed seniors were the more forgotten demographic.

“Because they are older, they are out of sight, out of mind. I believe we should do better for our senior citizens,” he said.

But, he adds there are also some really good facilities out there and a lot of great things that happen.

He says the other thing that needs to be remembered is that people are living longer these days and it’s about the quality of life.

“That’s what we at the Senior Recreational Council promote, those activities to stave off going into those facilities as we get older.

“Putting some money into preventative exercises are also very important,” he says.

The council is an advisory peak body that also operates classes, activities and information days for seniors to help them learn about what’s available for them, and to remain active.

On the whole, he thinks combined efforts from the federal and state governments are needed to bring about change.