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Monday, August 15, 2022

‘Historic’ aged care amendment bill introduced to parliament

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Minister for aged care Anika Wells introduced a bill into parliament today that, if passed, will enact reforms to three key areas of the aged care sector.

The Aged Care Amendment (Implementing Care Reform) Bill 2022 aims to deliver on some of the Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety’s most critical recommendations, including:

  • Greater transparency regarding provider spending of government aged care subsidies, with new, public reporting requirements to be enforced by December 1, 2022.
  • Caps to home care provider fees, effective as of January 1, 2023.
  • 24/7 presence of a registered nurse (RN) in all residential facilities, to be implemented on July 1, 2023.

The minister also introduced a second bill responding to the Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety in greater depth, responding to 17 recommendations of the final report.

However, this second bill also carries over a controversial amendment from last parliament, relating to legal immunity in the context of restrictive practices.

While implementation of these crucial reforms will take some time and will need to be phased in over the next two years, today marks the first real step towards actually fixing the aged care sector.

ANMF federal secretary, Annie Butler

“During the election we made a promise to Australians about aged care,” Wells said.

“The work for aged care reform begins today.”

Wells said the Government would not only expect greater transparency, but mandate it. 

“It will ensure older Australians have access to more and better information on aged care services and providers, including how much money is spent on their care,” she told parliament on Wednesday. 

Independent MP Rebekha Sharkie said the Government’s proposal is an important first step, but called for more transparency from providers on executive salaries and profits.

“Elderly Australians deserve a system that does not fail them,” she said.

“We must also address the underpayment of aged care workers with many in the sector underpaid by 25 per cent compared with workers in the disability sector.”

The opposition supported the introductions, but spokeswoman Sussan Ley said the royal commission response was a reintroduction of the former Liberal-National government’s proposal.

“They’re trying to redo what has already been done,” she said.

“We will be keeping a close eye on further upcoming aged care reform introduced by the government to ensure these regulations are actually implemented so that poor conduct in the sector is held to account.”

Annie Butler, federal secretary of the Australian Nursing and Midwifery Federation (ANMF), warmly welcomed the bill.

“This is a truly historic day for ANMF members working in aged care,” she said.

“While implementation of these crucial reforms will take some time and will need to be phased in over the next two years, today marks the first real step towards actually fixing the aged care sector.”

She added that she is proud to see years of campaigning and months worth of strike action from ANMF members and other advocacy bodies finally making headway.

“After years of campaigning, ANMF members and aged care workers across the country will finally see results — the introduction of national safe staffing laws.

These reforms, now to be enshrined in legislation, will ensure residents get the care they need and bring a halt to the neglect and suffering experienced by so many over the last decade.

Annie Butler

“The implementation of 24-hour RN presence and mandated minimum staff time in law, acts on one of the key recommendations of the Royal Commission and addresses the chronic understaffing in the aged care sector.

“These reforms, now to be enshrined in legislation, will ensure residents get the care they need and bring a halt to the neglect and suffering experienced by so many over the last decade.”

Butler furthermore commended Prime Minister Anthony Albanese and his health and aged care ministers — Mark Butler, Anika Wells and Ged Kearney — for fulfilling their pre-election commitments to fix aged care and implement the royal commission’s recommendations.

“The ANMF also welcomes the introduction of additional requirements on aged care providers to reveal how much they actually spend on ‘care, nursing, food, maintenance, cleaning, administration’ and their profits, which will bring much-needed accountability and transparency on the billions of taxpayer funds provided to nursing home operators.

… the biggest problem faced by consumers is that certain providers do not comply with the aged care principles, for example in SIRS [Serious Incident Response Scheme] reporting. Currently, some providers who do not meet quality standards are provided with a long time period to improve delivery of services.

Aged Care Reform Now spokeperson, Anna Willis

“We look forward to working collaboratively with the Government and the new parliament to ensure effective implementation of these reforms… for the sake of older Australians living in nursing homes and the nurses and care workers who look after them.”

Anna Willis, a Sydney-based lawyer and spokesperson for the grassroots advocacy network Aged Care Reform Now, told Aged Care News that this is a promising move, but more work needs to be done to strengthen recourse for non-compliance with quality standards.

“The proposed bill is going in the right direction with respect to registered on-site nurses, home-care charges and public information.

“They can go further by providing one registered nurse per 30 residents.

“However, the biggest problem faced by consumers is that certain providers do not comply with the aged care principles, for example in SIRS [Serious Incident Response Scheme] reporting.

“In the event of non-compliance, what is the role of the regulator, the Aged Care Quality and Safety Commission, and what powers do they have to enforce?

“Currently, some providers who do not meet quality standards are provided with a long time period to improve delivery of services.

“How does that help elderly residents where the impact of sub-standard services is significant?

“Where are the remedies for non-compliance and power to the regulator to enforce the act?”

The Aged Care Amendment (Implementing Care Reform) Bill 2022 and the Aged Care and Other Legislation Amendment (Royal Commission Response) Bill 2022 will both now need to be read and passed in the senate before returning to the house of representatives to be finalised and passed into law.

 

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