Australia’s aged care system is a poor reflection on society and won’t be accepted by future generations in its current form but there is hope for change, a royal commission has been told.
The long-running federal inquiry on Friday heard final submissions from lawyers after almost 100 sitting days spanning two years and more than 10,000 submissions.
Counsel assisting have put forward 124 recommendations which will be considered by commissioners before their final report to government in February.
“I would like to thank the Australian community for letting us into their lives,” Commissioner Lynelle Briggs said.
“We have moved forward together and I’m confident we will change the landscape of aged care.”
Ms Briggs said it was clear the system was underfunded and demonstrably failed to meet standards for a generation of people used to “just making do”.
“It is unimaginable that future generations will stand for it as it is. It is unacceptable to us all,” she said.
“The current aged care system is, sadly, a poor reflection on us.”
Proposed reforms include laws to protect the rights of the elderly and tougher powers for the sector regulator to bring substandard providers into line.
The inquiry has heard harrowing tales of neglect and abuse and was told of an estimated 50 sexual assaults a week in residential facilities nationally.
Counsel assisting the inquiry Peter Gray said on Friday stricter requirements for prescribing antipsychotic drugs to aged care residents are needed.
The commission previously identified widespread use of medications in aged homes to deal with challenging behaviours of residents.
Following an interim report last October, the Commonwealth announced a tightening of prescribing criteria for antipsychotic drug risperidone.
“These measures are commendable but in our submission, they don’t go far enough to a problem that’s persisted now for decades,” Mr Gray said.
“The system should never again be involved in … this apparent resort to antipsychotics in place of proper care of the people showing so-called challenging behaviours.”
Mr Gray implored the federal government to keep to its 2019 promise of having all people under 65 out of aged care by 2025.
In June, there were 4860 such aged care residents nationally.
“The government have delivered some encouraging early signs but … there have been false dawns before,” he said.
Mr Gray said the COVID-19 pandemic showed providers could utilise telehealth services in the future.
The sector also needs to come out of the “dark ages” and adopt more digital technology for better record keeping, he added.
There are proposals for providers to submit more frequent financial reports to regulators in light of many rural and regional facilities struggling with their bottom line.