On Sunday 16 September, Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced a Royal Commission into Australia's aged care system.

The aged care sector has been on the government's agenda for some time. Most recently, an increase in the government's auditing capabilities of aged care resident safety has resulted in an average of one aged care service being closed per month, with other services under sanctions necessitating improvements.

Here we look at the anticipated Terms of Reference for this new Royal Commission, and the key considerations that it raises for aged care providers.

Further steps are needed following Taskforce report

Mr Morrison's announcement comes on the heels of a number of major reviews of the aged care sector over the last 18 months, including last week's release of the Aged Care Workforce Strategy Taskforce's report, "A matter of care - Australia's aged care workforce strategy" by the Minister for Senior Australians and Aged Care.

But while Mr Morrison considers that improvements are being made across the industry, in his statement he said that further steps need to be taken. The government considers that a Royal Commission provides an appropriate vehicle to better understand the full extent of the issue and implement further changes.

Anticipated terms of reference

The Royal Commission's draft Terms of Reference are yet to be released, but it is anticipated that it will investigate areas such as:

  • the quality of care provided to aged care residents, in particular those residents suffering from dementia and younger residents living with a disability;
  • the issue of elder abuse, including financial abuse;
  • legal ratio of staff to residents;
  • the use of chemical restraints; and
  • the changing demographic of residents, with a particular focus on regional Australia.

Public submissions on the Terms of Reference close on 25 September 2018, with the Health Department establishing a website for this purpose.

Key considerations for aged care providers

Considering the recent Royal Commissions into the financial services sector and institutional child abuse, Australia's aged care organisations can expect this inquiry to be rigorous and far-reaching. While it is still early days, it is not too early to give consideration to some key questions:

  • What submissions may your organisation need to make to the Royal Commission, whether voluntarily or upon request?
  • Does your organisation's internal quality and safety processes and standards require immediate review and amendment?
  • Should an internal investigation be commenced into historical matters that the Commission may request information on?
  • What assistance can be provided to the organisation, its executives, and employees under its relevant insurance policies?
  • How might the outcomes of the Royal Commission impact on the organisation's day-to-day operations, profitability, and operating model going forward?