Over the last 6 weeks, the rapid spread of COVID-19 through the community has affected thousands of Australians, including consumers of aged care and the staff who care for them. This has placed additional stress on aged care providers, many of whom have already experienced challenges during the pandemic.
Support for the sector from the Australian Government has taken a number of forms, including financial grants, supply of personal protective equipment, access to polymerase chain reaction (PCR) testing and more recently rapid antigen test kits. The national rollout of the double dose vaccination program for residential aged care services has been followed by the booster dose program which provides everyone with significant added protection from serious disease, hospitalisation and death.
Approved providers must make every effort to ensure your residents and staff are offered and supported to access a booster shot as soon as they are eligible to receive it. The Minister for Senior Australians and Aged Care Services, Senator the Hon Richard Colbeck, and I recently issued a joint letter to residential aged care providers to personally encourage this and advise how boosters can be sourced. Please read this letter and share it with your residents and staff.
Also, in light of the ongoing risk of COVID-19 outbreaks in residential care services, providers are reminded of the range of resources available that outline what you must do to ensure that you are prepared and can appropriately and safely manage an outbreak. For example, you can access our Outbreak management planning modules via our online learning platform, Alis.
Turning to the aged care reform plan which continues to be an important priority for the entire sector, I sent a letter to approved providers on 20 December 2021 inviting governing bodies and leaders to register their interest in participating in the ‘Governing for reform in aged care’ education program which seeks to support best practice governance by providers. Approximately 1,200 registrations have been received to date, and if you haven’t already done so, I encourage you to visit the learning program website to register your interest.
Governing and managing the use of high-risk medications
A number of aged care residents are prescribed psychotropic medications to assist in managing their behavioural and psychological symptoms of dementia. There is evidence that some of this prescribing is inappropriate.
When psychotropic medication is prescribed for the primary purpose of managing a resident’s behaviour, it is a form of chemical restraint, so all the restrictive practice requirements in the Quality of Care Principles 2014 apply. Providers are expected to be familiar with, and comply with, their obligations under these principles. This includes minimising the use of restrictive practices by first exploring other options and only using a restrictive practice as a last resort and for the least amount of time possible. Because psychotropic medications affect brain functioning, there needs to be a strong focus on ensuring comprehensive assessment and close monitoring of any resident taking them.
The Commission has recently updated the Psychotropic self-assessment tool and developed an associated frequently asked questions (FAQs) resource to help providers govern and manage high-risk medications by capturing important information about residents in their care who are prescribed psychotropic medications.
This tool and the FAQs will help providers to identify where further assessment or action may be required, including opportunities to reduce or cease these medications for residents.
Home services consultation survey closes soon
The Commission is seeking feedback from home services providers, workers, consumers and their families or carers about how it can improve the way it communicates and engages with these stakeholders.
We are keen to hear from as many people as possible including:
- different types of home services providers and services
- rural, remote and metropolitan based providers
- home care workers
- consumers from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds, and Aboriginal and /or Torres Strait Islander communities
- family members or carers of consumers receiving different levels of care including specialist care.
The University of Technology Sydney is conducting the research on behalf of the Commission. To provide feedback using an anonymous online survey, please visit the Home Services Consultation website at www.homeservicesconsultation.uts.edu.au.
The survey closes on Friday 11 February.
Upcoming changes to the SIRS online reporting form
Amendments will be made to the My Aged Care Portal from 28 February 2022 to improve the user friendliness of the Serious Incident Response Scheme (SIRS) online reporting form. The changes will also help residential aged care providers to understand the level of detail and quality of information they must include in their reportable incident notifications.
Since the introduction of the SIRS in April 2021, a proportion of the notifications submitted by providers have been incomplete or lacking the necessary detail for Commission staff to assess them.
Providers are required to include descriptive and accurate details in response to all the questions in their SIRS notifications to enable the Commission to assess: the risk and impact of the reportable incident on the aged care consumer, whether the provider has appropriately responded to the incident, and whether the provider has an effective incident management system in place.
Some of the improvements that will be made to the form from 28 February include:
- descriptive help text to prompt users to include necessary details in their notifications
- additional space in response fields to reduce restrictions on the amount of information that can be included
- slight alterations to some of the questions to improve readability
- text changes to clarify the phrase ‘could reasonably have been expected to have caused’ a residential consumer physical or psychological injury or discomfort that requires medical or physiological treatment to resolve
- additional guidance text and considerations to 4 key questions that will encourage providers to provide more detailed information to the Commission in relation to incidents
- further links to supporting resources such as case studies that will support SIRS reporting requirements
- minor amendments to wording throughout the webform to help improve users’ understanding of their obligations and requirements under the SIRS.
All Priority 1 (P1) incidents must be reported within 24 hours of providers becoming aware of the incident. If the necessary information is not all available at the time of submitting this notification, providers have 5 days to submit further information to the Commission via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
A ‘Practical tips for providers’ resource explains what constitutes a quality notification and demonstrates the type of information providers should include when making a P1 notification. A ‘Problem solving approach to enhance effective incident management’ resource is also available to help providers understand the causes of incidents quickly.
Residential aged care providers can register to attend the Commission’s full day online workshop relating to the SIRS. As part of this workshop, participants will take part in practical activities designed to help providers understand SIRS reporting requirements and what constitutes a quality notification.
Also from 28 February, providers will be able to submit multiple Priority 2 (P2) incident notifications at the same time. This bulk upload capability will reduce the time it takes for providers to submit their P2 notifications.
For more information on the SIRS, including access to the decision support tool, visit the Commission’s website.
Complying with your Quality Standards responsibilities
The national Aged Care Quality Standards have been in effect for two-and-a-half years, since 1 July 2019. They focus on fundamental outcomes for consumers and the standard of care and services that Commonwealth-subsidised aged care services are required to comply with.
The 8 standards apply to all aged care settings including residential and home aged care services, and they provide a framework of core requirements for quality and safety in care.
The Commission has an extensive suite of materials to help aged care providers understand, implement and maintain the standards in the services they provide.
If you want a refresher about the Aged Care Quality Standards, or you’re a new provider or worker in the aged care sector and need information and guidance on the standards and your compliance responsibilities, read our ‘Latest news’ article to see the resources we have available.
Inaugural Council of Elders members announced
The Australian Government has recently announced the establishment of new sector governance arrangements, including the appointment of a National Aged Care Advisory Council and an Aged Care Council of Elders.
The Council of Elders will play a critical role in making sure that those most central to the aged care system – senior Australians – have input into shaping it by providing advice to the Government about aged care reform and ageing generally.
The two-year membership of the inaugural Council of Elders has now been confirmed. Chaired by Mr Ian Yates AM, the 14 members possess a diverse set of skills, expertise and backgrounds. They also represent broad geographical locations, to help relay views from rural, regional and remote Australia.
The council will meet 6 times per year and will report to the Minister for Health and Aged Care, the Minister for Senior Australians and Aged Care Services, and the Department of Health.
Partnerships in care tackle social isolation safely
Social isolation of aged care consumers is a risk arising from the COVID-19 pandemic which may be overlooked, but which requires close attention because of its potentially significant and damaging impact on individuals. While older people are highly vulnerable to the virus, there are very serious health consequences from long periods of loneliness and isolation.
For over a year, the Commission has been advocating the adoption by residential aged care services of a ‘partnerships in care’ arrangement that ensures ongoing safe access to a facility – including during visitor restrictions – by individuals who are used to coming daily or very regularly into an aged care home to provide care and support to an identified resident (typically their spouse, sibling or parent). In essence, these individuals should be treated as de facto members of the care team, given the vital caring role they perform for their loved one.
HammondCare’s Partnering in Care Program is a good example of how this can work. This provider’s education program supports a safe continuation of face-to-face visits during times of COVID-19 lockdown restrictions. The program is designed to arm visitors to aged care homes with the skills to minimise the risk of COVID-19 transmission. People who complete the training in COVID-safe practices, infection control, hygiene and general care can enter a residential aged care facility on essential care visits, except where public health orders prohibit this.
More than 1,800 people have completed the program online since August 2020. HammondCare has described it as providing a lifeline to continued connection at a time when many aged care homes were closed to visitors.
The program’s success was formally acknowledged in the NSW/ACT 2021 Aged & Community Services Australia Aged Care Awards with a win in the Innovation in Service or Design category.
The Commission’s ‘Partnerships in care’ resource is available to all providers, and residential aged care providers are strongly encouraged to consider developing their own program to enable individual residents to continue to benefit from safe face-to-face contact with the most important person or people in their lives while COVID-19 remains an ongoing risk.