Royal Commission into Aged Care begins

Ross Greenwood speaks to National Seniors Chief Executive Professor John McCallum after the first day of hearings for the Royal Commission into aged care has wrapped up in Adelaide.

Ross Greenwood: Great to have your company here on Money News right around Australia, Adelaide today, so the first day of the Royal Commission into age care facilities. This is an important role commissioner, I believe, and we’ve explained this to you before because this is you, this is me, this is our parents, grandparents who could very well be the potential victims of substandard service and care inside the wrong facility.

The problem is, as a consumer, as a parent, as a grandparent, whatever, you wouldn’t know. That’s the fundamental problem. The very first witness up there was Barbara Briggs. Her husband, Bob, died in 2016 after being mistreated and overmedicated at the Oakden Nursing Home. This is in Adelaide. She broke down, very hard to hear from her. She basically said that it was a long battle. She heard nothing, she raised her concerns that were constantly downplayed. This is a fundamental problem.

Somebody who has been giving evidence late this afternoon is Professor John McCallum who is the chief executive of the National Seniors, and also the head of research there. He’s online right now. Many thanks for your time, John.

Interview with: John McCallum, CEO, National Seniors

John McCallum: Good afternoon, Ross.

Ross Greenwood: Just in regards to the evidence you’ve given and the process of this Royal Commission, just explain why you think every Australian needs to take notice of what’s taking place in those hearings.

John McCallum: Ross, this afternoon we had the privilege of helping to set the scene for the Commission. First all, we need to hear those stories, the Oakden stories or whatever else. People have to tell those stories and they have to be heard. At the end of this, we have to have an age care system that works better. What we’ve pointed to in that was better training, more home care, dealing with the long waiting list, 127,000 last estimate, of people who have been through the hard hoops of getting an assessment for eligibility for homecare but they can’t get it, and to really think hard about the consumer experience. It isn’t just an old game of providing a service or putting people in a bed and hoping for the best. It’s providing a consumer experience.

Ross Greenwood: Isn’t this really similar in some ways to the Banking Royal Commission where it’s actually where some organizations very sadly have decided to put their own profits ahead of the welfare of the people that they are supposed to care for. As a result, the priorities have been skewed and therefore people who are unable to virtually defend themselves, almost helpless in many cases, really become the victims.

John McCallum: Ross, it’s exactly like that. Then the whole industry gets tagged with that brush. In this case, there’s probably a lot of work to be done on that industry. We don’t really have an Australian Banking Association, we have multiple big body groups. We had two agencies and that created the new quality and safety agency. We just have one and it’s very new. How do you protect until you’ve strengthened some of those things and get an emerging industry going in this area because that’s what it is?

Ross Greenwood: There’s another aspect here that troubles me and that is the Royal Commission demanded that age care facilities provide a five year summary of instances of substandard care. Now, I note, of 2,000 approved providers, just 900 of them responded to the Royal Commission with this information. Is that troubling to you?

John McCallum: Very much. I think it’s a combination of things. I don’t think they’re going to get away with this by the way. The Royal Commission has powers which are quite strong. There was another thing in the introduction that Commissioner Tracey said that the record-keeping was very poor. You think a lot of people have got bad records and have to tell the truth about what’s been going on.

They’re probably still struggling some of them. I think maybe some of them are ill advised and just don’t know what to do. That’s a problem. I think bad records are a serious problem in its own right, that we don’t know what’s going on and you couldn’t check on it.

Ross Greenwood: How important is family here, John, because, clearly, family have got to be looking after their own family members. They’ve got to make certain they’re the eyes and ears to look after their welfare in these types of facilities. As you point out, there are some people who do quite brilliant jobs. There’s no doubt about that and people who do care, but the fact of the matter is there’s also going to be avenues for whistleblowers to come forward, be it from families or bed staff members who believe that standards are not being met. I think that’s going to be the key.

John McCallum: It has to be the key. We have to have a complaint agency that works. The other problem is, Ross, that not many people actually knew there was one. They put up cameras in nursing homes, they do whatever, but there was one actually. The point is we’ve got to get that message around that there is a system. People know about, if you buy a defective product you can do something with that.

This is something where people are putting off the negative thoughts of it or not thinking about it, or not wanting to know about it, we have to get into that world. As you say, it’s ourselves, our parents, and our friends parents and whatever, and we have to understand what’s going on and know what to do about things when they happen.

Ross Greenwood: I tell you what, it is a very sad set of circumstances that we need a Royal Commission to dry and drive those standards. Some people clearly have got the priorities and the administration completely wrong for when people are at one of the most sensitive stages of their lives. John McCallum, the Chief Executive of National Seniors, always great to have you in the program, John. We’ll talk again during the course of this Royal Commission.

John McCallum: Love to do that, Ross.

Image source: 2GB

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