“We think there’s a whole lot more that have been written off as falls,” he said. “No one wants to deal with it.”
Providers were encouraged not to report assaults that would put them “on the radar” of the regulator, Professor Ibrahim said.
He said a normalisation of aggression and harassment in aged care meant people who would normally be outraged by a sexual assault against a university student could turn a blind eye against the same behaviour being perpetrated against an elderly resident.
Australian Health Services Research Institute director Kathy Eagar said it was “completely unacceptable” that the government had not yet implemented the Serious Incident Response Scheme, which it promised a year ago but will not be up and running for at least nine months.
“The government has been outsourcing its duty of care for older Australians to private providers for the last 20 years … quite deliberately, with a goal of outsourcing their responsibility,” Professor Eagar said.
“We need an ombudsman in aged care and whistleblower legislation, which mandates staff to report assaults if the provider doesn’t.”
The federal government last year agreed to set up the scheme, recommended by the Australian Law Reform Commission almost four years ago, but has so far only completed a feasibility study – meaning it will not be active until the middle of next year.
Under the proposed scheme, residential aged care providers would be required to manage incidents with a focus on residents’ safety and wellbeing and reduce preventable assaults from recurring, with the Aged Care Quality and Safety Commission to be given enhanced regulatory powers.
Neglect, psychological or emotional abuse and inappropriate physical or chemical restraint would all be reportable incidents under the scheme, which would remove the current exemption on reporting attacks by another resident if the perpetrator has a cognitive impairment.
Labor’s aged care spokeswoman Julie Collins said the figures on assaults were “absolutely tragic” and called on the Morrison government to “act immediately” and bring forward the introduction of a Serious Incident Response Scheme “to ensure older Australians get the safe aged care services they deserve.”
Aged Care Minister Richard Colbeck announced in June that $23 million would be invested to build the IT system and undertake “sector preparedness” to implement a SIRS by July 2021, along with a feasibility study on expanding the scheme across home care.
A spokesman for the minister said “sector engagement activities” would start next month and that legislation to establish the scheme would be introduced into Parliament later this year.
“Work is under way to fast track its implementation,” the spokesman said.
Get our Morning & Evening Edition newsletters
Dana is health and industrial relations reporter for The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age.