Safeguarding Older Australians with the Serious Incident Response Scheme

As a nation, Australians have been horrified to read of the many stories of substandard care and abuse in our aged care system, which have been amplified during the COVID-19 pandemic.

On 18 October 2018, the Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety (Royal Commission) was established. In 2021, the final report titled Care, Dignity and Respect (Final Report) was released. Royal Commissioners Tony Pagone QC and Lynelle Briggs AO identified systemic problems, and called for fundamental reform of the aged care system in Australia. The Final Report made 148 recommendations stating, “…the extent of substandard care in the current aged care system is deeply concerning, and has been known for many years.”

Substandard care and abuse pervades the Australian aged care system

Final Report

From 1 July 2019, as part of the recommended reforms, organisations providing Commonwealth subsidised aged care services are required to comply with the Aged Care Quality Standards, the Charter of Aged Care Rights, and the National Aged Care Mandatory Quality Indicator Program. Further, in 2021, the federal government introduced the Serious Incident Response Scheme (the Scheme) to reduce the risk of neglect and abuse of people living or staying in residential aged care providers.

The Serious Incident Response Scheme

The Hon. Pagone stated in the Final Report, “Frequently I heard evidence of failure where those who were failing would not have seen themselves at fault when frustrations, lack of understanding, competing demands and human failings resulted in an older person being treated badly.” The introduction of the Scheme ensures independent oversight of reportable incidents and holds organisations accountable for any failures.

The Scheme requires residential aged care providers to put an effective incident management system in place and report certain types of incidents to the Aged Care Quality and Safety Commission (Commission), which is the national regulator of aged care services and oversees the Scheme.

What is a reportable incident?

Reportable incidents includes those which occur or are alleged or suspected to have occurred. There are eight categories of reportable incidents under the Scheme:

  1. unreasonable use of force;
  2. unlawful sexual contact or inappropriate sexual conduct;
  3. neglect of a consumer;
  4. psychological or emotional abuse;
  5. unexpected death;
  6. stealing or financial coercion by a staff member;
  7. inappropriate use of restrictive practices; and
  8. unexplained absence of care.

Different reporting obligations attach to incidents depending on whether they are categorised as Priority 1 or Priority 2 incidents.

  • Priority 1 incidents are reportable incidents:
    • that have caused or could reasonably have been expected to cause, a consumer physical or psychological injury or discomfort that requires medical or psychological treatment to resolve, or
    • that constitute reasonable grounds to contact the police, or
    • that involve the unexpected death of a consumer or a consumer’s unexplained absence from the service.
  • Priority 2 incidents are reportable incidents that do not meet the criteria for a Priority 1 reportable incident.

What does my organisation need to do to comply with the Scheme?

The Scheme has been introduced in two stages:

  • Stage 1 came into effect on 1 April 2021 and requires that Priority 1 incidents be reported to the Commission within 24 hours of the provider becoming aware of the incident. Those incidents may also need to be reported to police.
  • Stage 2 came into effect on 1 October 2021 and requires that Priority 2 incidents be reported to the Commission within 30 days of becoming aware of the incident.

From 1 July 2022, the Scheme will be expanded from residential care to include in-home aged care services.

Reports need to be lodged via the My Aged Care Service Provider Portal within the relevant timeframe. An organisation will be required to document the incident, conduct an investigation into reportable incidents where appropriate, and ensure that actions are taken to avoid similar incidents from being repeated.

As with most new laws, the Commission is likely to take a more educative approach to implementing the Scheme in the early stages of the roll out, however we expect that enforcement action will commence for non-compliant providers now the Scheme is operational. Compliance action can include serving non-compliance notices and infringement notices, publishing notices of non-compliance on a publicly available non-compliance checker, and civil penalties, which can have highly detrimental reputational and operational consequences for an organisation. Organisations must act now to ensure they are compliant with the Scheme.

How Moores can help

Moores can help your organisation comply with the requirements of the Scheme by assisting with the development of compliant policies and procedures that are tailored to the unique environment of your organisation. We can also provide you with support to implement the training needed to equip your staff with the necessary knowledge to implement your policies and procedures in a practical and informative way.

Our team are experts in providing organisations with guidance and advice to ensure that any internal investigations are conducted thoroughly and in compliance with the necessary requirements. We also help by conducting independent safeguarding investigations into reportable incidents when an internal investigation is not appropriate.

Who to contact

If you have any questions about what support we can provide you, please get in touch with our safeguarding experts Skye Rose and Patrice Fitzgerald.

Contact us

Please contact us for more detailed and tailored help.

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