Wednesday, 7 February 2007
Questions without Notice
My question is to Senator Santoro, the Minister for Ageing. Has the minister seen reports in the Adelaide Advertiser today that describe a four-year study of Adelaide nursing homes where academics witnessed widespread abuse such as a resident being forced to sit in a urine-soaked bed and nightgown while eating her breakfast, residents being forced to sit in their own faeces for long periods of time and requests by people to go to the toilet being rejected on the basis that it is not their toilet time? Is it true that all Adelaide nursing homes are accredited and have been so for the entire four-year period of the study? Is it also the case that only one Adelaide nursing home, Barton Vale, which failed 27 of the 44 accreditation criteria, was sanctioned during the period of the study? Can the minister now explain how it is possible for abuses of this nature to occur under the government’s aged-care system?
I can inform Senator Wortley that I have seen the front page of the Adelaide Advertiser, and let me make it very clear right from the outset that it is our main goal as a government to protect the most vulnerable in our society and we on this side of the chamber take our responsibilities, particularly when it comes to the venerable and vulnerable ageing Australians in our aged-care facilities, very seriously. When I saw the headline, I was very angry. I felt angry that that sort of psychological abuse could again be inflicted on the residents, the relatives and the carers of the people whom we care for.
I will answer that interjection. I will say precisely what I did. I immediately instructed my department and the accreditation agency to make contact with the people who did the research which was published on the front page of the Adelaide Advertiser. I did four radio interviews explaining precisely what I am about to tell the Senate now in greater detail. I asked my departmental people to make contact with those people and I can advise the Senate that the author of this report has advised the Department of Health and Ageing that her ‘first-hand knowledge’ of these issues relates to her study of just three residents in one nursing home four years ago.
No, it does not make it okay. My departmental officers were advised that the other comments were based on anecdotal evidence and third-hand information heard about over the last three years. That was the advice, and my officers are happy to sign statutory declarations that that was the advice that was provided. We are reduced to hearsay on the front page of the Adelaide Advertiser and in a question asked in the Senate. That is what I have been talking about. Senators opposite have accused me of overstepping when I say that the headline that appeared on the front page of the Adelaide Advertiser is the worst psychological abuse that we can inflict on our residents in aged-care facilities. And the sooner newspapers like the Adelaide Advertiser and the sooner some senators opposite start behaving in a responsible way, the better off our nation builders in our care in Australia’s aged-care facilities will be. I implore the opposition and newspapers to do what is decent, and that is to report accurately and to try to find out the facts and to verify them, as we were very quickly able to.
Furthermore, I can inform the Senate that the academics have refused to identify any homes of concern for further investigation of these claims. I said immediately to my department, ‘Get in there as quickly as possible and let’s see if there is a systemic problem and if there is an issue that we really should be worried about.’ I am further advised by the department that the academics involved did not report these alleged cases of neglect under the Aged Care Complaints Resolution Scheme at any time over the last four years. I believe that it is incumbent upon everybody, whether it is the minister, an opposition senator or anybody else out there within our community, to report cases of neglect such as those described. (Time expired)
Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. How can the minister defend this system when elderly and frail Australians and their families have to rely on the media and independent academics rather than the appropriate authorities to detect abuse in aged-care facilities?
With respect, Senator Wortley was not listening to the answer. We have an accreditation agency, a complaints resolution scheme, a department, and shortly we will be introducing whistleblower protection legislation so that people do report the rare instances of neglect and abuse. I again remind Senator Wortley and the Senate that close to 170,000 ageing Australians are in full-time care in over 3,000 facilities. No government, no opposition and nobody else involved in the aged-care industry of Australia can give a rock-solid guarantee that not one resident over 365 days of the year will suffer some mishap. No-one can guarantee that, but to have that scurrilous headline psychologically damaging our ageing Australians is a very sad indictment.