Several major milestones for early 2021 are now imminent, with each promising significant change for the aged care sector.
The final report of the Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety is due to be handed to the Governor General on Friday 26 February. This represents the culmination of over 2 years of work by the Royal Commission (since its establishment in October 2018) that has included community consultations, receipt of submissions, public hearings, and publication of commissioned research and earlier reports. Across the aged care sector and the wider community, there is a general expectation that the Royal Commission’s work will help to drive improvements in people’s access to and experiences of aged care. The Commonwealth Government’s response to the final report is keenly awaited by everyone, and the Aged Care Quality and Safety Commission is looking forward to working with all stakeholders to help implement the Government’s program of reforms.
Another upcoming milestone is the commencement of the Serious Incident Response Scheme (SIRS). Following the passage of legislation, the SIRS will commence on 1 April. As administrator of the scheme, the Commission is continuing its efforts to support residential aged care providers to understand and prepare for their new obligations. Our communication and education initiatives include a webinar series which commences this Thursday 25 February 2021 with an introductory session outlining the fundamental elements of the SIRS and the importance of incident management systems. We’re also releasing new Alis modules on the SIRS in early March, and regular fact sheets and resources. I strongly encourage all providers of residential aged care to check our website and register for the webinar to help you get ready for the scheme.
A third milestone for early 2021 is the commencement by the Commonwealth Government of the rollout of the COVID-19 vaccine for staff and residents in residential aged care services. The Department of Health has released a readiness toolkit for providers to help prepare services for the rollout, and you can find a link to the toolkit in this edition.
On a separate topic, I congratulate the Aged Care Workforce Industry Council and all involved parties on the recent launch of the new Aged Care Voluntary Industry Code of Practice. This represents the first time that the aged care industry has been brought together under a single, industry-led code of practice. This is a very welcome development by the sector for the sector, and ultimately, for older Australians receiving aged care.
Serious Incident Response Scheme (SIRS) – new resources and upcoming webinar
Following the passage of legislation, the Serious Incident Response Scheme (SIRS) will commence on 1 April 2021. Under the SIRS, providers will need to report incidents to the Commission using a new SIRS portal accessible via the My Aged Care Provider Portal. They will also need to implement an effective incident management system to facilitate the prevention of, and response to, incidents that occur in connection with the provision of care to a consumer.
The Commission has developed a number of materials and activities to support providers in navigating the SIRS, including a series of 4 free webinars during February and March 2021. The first webinar: Introduction to the SIRS and the importance of Incident Management Systems, will take place at 5 pm AEDT on Thursday 25 February 2021. Participants will have the opportunity to ask any questions during the session. Register for the webinar via this link.
Information about the future SIRS webinars will be made available in the coming weeks via the Commission’s website and by direct invitation to providers. The webinars will be recorded and available on the Commission’s website for anyone who isn’t available to attend the live sessions.
The Commission has also published an additional fact sheet for providers which details the elements of an effective incident management system, including how to prepare for SIRS. Access all SIRS related materials, including the new fact sheet, at www.agedcarequality.gov.au/sirs.
New SIRS modules on Alis coming soon – register now
To help aged care providers prepare for the commencement of the new Serious Incident Response Scheme (SIRS) on 1 April 2021, new modules about the SIRS will be made available on Alis, our Aged Care Learning Information Solution.
The first SIRS module will be released in early March and will provide introductory information about the scheme, including the incident management and reportable incident obligations.
To assist you with accessing both the SIRS modules and the existing Aged Care Quality Standards modules, all Commonwealth-funded aged care service providers can access 4 free registrations to our online learning platform. This free access period will be extended from 31 March 2021 to 31 October 2021. You can also purchase additional Alis registrations to support your staff’s ongoing professional development.
If you have not yet registered for Alis, we encourage you to do so now. That will enable you to create an account and access the new SIRS modules as soon as they are available.
To register, go to learning.agedcarequality.gov.au.
Be prepared for risk-based questions at our onsite assessments
As part of our regulatory activities, the Commission wants to understand as much information as possible about the care and services being delivered to consumers to inform our visit.
At the commencement of our quality assessment and monitoring activities, our quality assessors ask both residential and home care service providers a short series of risk-based questions. These questions are posed to the person in charge at the service during the entry meeting, so it is important for such staff members to be informed and prepared to answer the questions at that time.
Our risk questions are based on:
- areas identified from previous assessments
- requirements of the Quality Standards which cause concern, or are most frequently not met across the sector
- risk-based industry alerts which may form part of our current regulatory strategy such as infection control.
The questions asked are available on the Risk-based questions page of our website.
We encourage all providers to be prepared by ensuring that relevant staff are aware of and confident in their responses to, these questions, and in providing any supporting documentation during the onsite entry meeting.
New COVID-19 vaccine readiness toolkit now available
The Department of Health has published a new readiness toolkit for residential aged care facilities to help prepare for the rollout of COVID-19 vaccines, including obtaining and recording consent for residents.
The vaccination program is commencing in residential aged care services in the week beginning 22 February. It will take a number of months to roll out the full vaccination program.
Residential aged care facilities should familiarise themselves with the readiness toolkit and start planning.
Why your outbreak management plans must be service specific
If you’re a residential aged care provider with multiple services, you must develop an outbreak management plan that is specific to each of your services, rather than one generic plan that applies to all of them.
Developing service-specific plans demonstrates that you’ve considered and addressed the key risks and individual needs of the residents in each of your services. This includes managing the risk and wellbeing of residents with wandering behaviours, cognitive impairments, and other behavioural issues.
Your outbreak management plans should also be customised to address the particular characteristics of the physical layout of each service. The layout of each service will affect important decisions you need to make around infection control such as:
- where zoning will occur to separate COVID-positive and COVID-negative residents
- where stations for personal protective equipment and hand sanitiser will be positioned
- where wanderers will have access to space for walking.
Our ‘Outbreak management planning in aged care’ guide details important factors that residential aged care providers must consider when preparing for a COVID-19 outbreak. Given that each service is different, these guidelines need to be adapted by providers to ensure that their outbreak management plan for each service is fit-for-purpose. We encourage you to refer to our guide when developing or reviewing your customised outbreak management plan for each of your services.
Free support for rural, remote and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander care providers
The Department of Health’s Service Development Assistance Panel (SDAP) provides free professional support to aged care providers who are located in rural and remote areas or who provide care to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.
Qualified and experienced professionals on the panel work with eligible providers to:
- help improve service delivery and administration by addressing challenges such as clinical care, financial and workforce planning, governance, and regulation
- provide personalised support through offsite and face-to-face training and mentoring to help maintain financial viability and meet regulatory obligations.
You can apply for support if you:
- are located in a rural or remote location, and/or
- provide services to a significant number of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples anywhere in Australia
and offer aged care services under the following programs:
- residential aged care under the Aged Care Act 1997
- Home Care Packages Program
- National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Flexible Aged Care Program
- Commonwealth Home Support Programme (in some cases).
To apply, complete the application form on the Department of Health website.
Questions and completed applications can be submitted via email to the Department of Health at SDAP@health.gov.au.
- The Multilingual Older Persons COVID-19 Support Line has been launched by the Centre for Cultural Diversity in Ageing. It seeks to provide in-language support and information about COVID-19, and referrals to aged care, dementia care and other support services for older Australians from culturally diverse backgrounds. The Australia-wide support line is funded by the Department of Health and will operate until 31 July 2021. All calls are free from 2pm to 5pm AEDT/AEST Monday to Friday (except public holidays). The phone numbers are:
- Arabic – 1800 549 849
- Cantonese – 1800 549 848
- Greek – 1800 549 845
- Italian – 1800 549 844
- Mandarin – 1800 549 847
- Vietnamese – 1800 549 846.
- The Older Persons Advocacy Network (OPAN) recently hosted a webinar about the Charter of Aged Care Rights. This is a unique set of rights applying to every older person receiving aged care – whether in their home or in a residential facility. The charter protects an older person’s independence, freedom to choose, care, and ability to speak up without adverse consequences. The webinar panel discussed how older people can exercise these rights, and what everyone can do to empower older people. You can watch a recording of the webinar on the OPAN website.