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Public officials raise aged care concerns

2 min read

Senior public officials responsible for protecting the rights of people with disabilities have savaged recent changes around the use of physical and chemical restraints in aged care facilities.

Public advocates and guardians from four states and territories made a joint appearance before a federal parliamentary inquiry into use of the restraints.

They are calling on federal politicians to scrap the regulations and start from scratch, with the changes enshrined in law.

Colleen Pearce, from the Victorian Office of the Public Advocate, described aspects of the regulation as “flawed and ambiguous”.

“We consider the principles are inconsistent with people’s human rights (and) would preferably be contained in legislation,” Dr Pearce told the committee in Sydney on Tuesday.

“(The principles) introduce, in the case of physical restraints, a new flawed and ambiguous substitute decision-making regime, provide virtually no regulation of chemical restraint usage, and lack the safeguards of other restrictive practices regulatory schemes,” she said.

Dr Pearce welcomed the federal government’s attempts to regulate the use of restraints in residential aged care, but her praise stopped there.

“My office has serious concerns about the legality and execution of the principles, which are inconsistent with the human rights of the affected person, and lack the necessary safeguards,” she said.

Queensland’s public guardian Natalie Siegel-Brown said the changes created many more problems than they solved.

“Unfortunately in their current form, the principles actually regress the recognition of human rights of people living in aged care, particularly with respect to chemical restraints,” she told the committee. “But the entire suite itself lacks any monitoring, enforcement or oversight in any event, and this can lead to greater problems.”

Siegel-Brown outlined various “pressing and disturbing” concerns and said the changes placed her agency and the community in a “really compromising position”.

The changes were aimed at limiting the use of both physical and chemical restraints in aged care.

But various groups have reached out to the committee, warning the changes pose a number of human rights concerns.

A group of advocates argue the government should be prohibiting the misuse of restraints and over-medication, rather than regulating them.

They argue medication should only be used for therapeutic practices and be administered with a patient’s free and informed consent.

The group includes Aged and Disability Advocacy Australia (ADA) and Human Rights Watch, both of which addressed the hearing on Tuesday.

“Older people in nursing homes are at serious risk of harm if this new aged care regulation is allowed to stand as is,” ADA chief executive Geoff Rowe said.

“Australia’s parliament should act urgently to ensure that everyone, including older people, is free from the threat of chemical restraint,” he said.

The head of the Australian Commission on Quality and Safety in Healthcare, Dr Robert Herkes, will also front the committee, along with Aged Care Quality and Safety Commission boss Christina Bolger.

With AAP

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