Australian aged care royal commission kicks off

13:14 pm on 18 January 2019

Victims and families are being urged not to be afraid to tell their stories as the Australian aged care royal commission begins today.

Photo: 123RF

Telling his father's story has been distressing for Clive Spriggs, but he said it was worth it to bring about change.

"It's still a very difficult and still a very raw subject for myself and my family," he said.

"What we went through in Oakden was appalling to say the least."

Clive Spriggs's father Bob Spriggs was abused at Adelaide's state-run Oakden mental health facility.

He was one of many residents at the home who were neglected, grossly over-medicated and put in restraints.

The Oakden scandal was among a string of disturbing cases involving abuse and mistreatment in nursing homes across the country which led to the Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety, which was announced in September.

"Australia's got the perfect chance now," Mr Spriggs said.

"You've got to speak up - these people that go into aged care are the people that built our country.

"Let's give them the respect they deserve."

'Once-in-a-lifetime opportunity'

Aged Care Crisis advocacy group member Lynda Salterelli said victims and families should be brave and tell their stories despite it being daunting.

"It's important the commission hears from as many family members as possible," Ms Salterelli said.

"This is pretty much a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to make a contribution.

"Family members and staff are fearful of making a complaint about care.

"Staff are concerned about losing their jobs and have done so, and family members fear for the safety of their loved ones because they are left in aged care."

The royal commission will look at the extent of substandard care, mistreatment and abuse, systemic failures and ways to improve the sector.

It's also expected to examine the controversial use of physical restraints and medication to control the behaviour of dementia patients.

Lots of inquiries but little change

Those in the sector say they are frustrated that despite many inquiries, reports and recommendations over the years, little has changed.

"The core problems are the insufficient numbers of trained staff to provide care, Ms Salterelli said.

"The second issue is the failure to collect any data and make it publicly available.

"The third issue is that over the last two decades the government has responded to all the criticism by making ineffectual changes and then boasting about our rigorous regulation."

Researcher and aged care advocate Sarah Russell said data and evidence are lacking in helping to formulate aged care policy.

"Because of the Aged Care Act, we don't have transparency around staffing in aged care homes, we as researchers cannot access data about pressure injuries, dehydration, malnutrition, medication issues or falls," she said.

She said a rewriting of the Aged Care Act was needed.

"My view is the ... [act] has led to many of these problems," she said.

"It was written for providers, not for residents."

Royal commission gets underway

Commissioners Richard Tracey and Lynelle Briggs will outline how the inquiry will operate at today's hearing.

Witnesses will start giving evidence next month in Adelaide, before the inquiry moves across different states and territories.

The commission will be directed to inquire into all forms of Commonwealth-funded aged care, wherever they are delivered.

It will cover care for people in aged care facilities, in-home care services and care for young Australians with disabilities living in a residential aged care environment.

The commissioners will be required to produce an interim report by the end of next October, and a final report by the end of April 2020.