The occurrence of assaults allegedly perpetrated against residents in aged care has risen by 10% in one year.

The 2014/15 Report on the Operation of the Aged Care Act 1997  has been released, showing that the Department of Health was notified of over 2,500 assaults in residential care, allegedly perpetrated by aged care workers.

Under the Aged Care Act 1997 (Act), aged care providers are required to report suspicions or allegations of assault to local police and the Health Department within 24 hours of developing a suspicion or becoming aware of the allegation.

A reportable assault can result from the use of physical force or unlawful sexual contact. Aged care providers must make a report if either or both of the following occurs:

  • unreasonable force is used on a resident, being deliberate and violent physical attacks or the use of unwarranted physical force; and
  • unlawful sexual contact, being sexual contact with a resident without the resident’s consent.

Given the significant increase in alleged assaults over a short period of time, it is increasingly important for aged care providers to have policies in place which effectively deal with procedures to be followed in the case of an assault.

The Act places responsibility for reporting on the aged care provider rather than individual employees, requiring the provider to take reasonable measures to require each of its staff members to report suspicions or incidents of reportable assaults. This requirement even extends to other parties with whom the aged care provider contracts.

Policies dealing with reportable assaults should clearly set out the process for reporting a suspicion or allegation of assault against a resident, including to whom a report can be made and when. After a suspicion or allegation of assault is reported, an investigation will occur where witnesses are interviewed and statements may be taken, and policies should also address this process.

It is vital that aged care providers communicate both the existence and content of internal policies to employees so that action can quickly be taken to address a suspicion or allegation of assault. Heavy sanctions can be imposed on aged care providers who breach the reporting obligations, including revocation or suspension of approval to provide of aged care services and restriction of government subsidies.

This article has been written with the assistance of Stephanie Rocca, Graduate Lawyer.