Castan Centre, aged care advocacy group makes UN submission on aged care quality during COVID-19

The Castan Centre for Human Rights Law at Monash University and the Professor Joe Aged Care Advocacy Group have made a submission to the United Nations Independent Expert on the enjoyment of all human rights by older persons.

The submission raises serious concerns about the quality of care in, and regulation of, Australia’s residential aged care facilities, particularly having regard to the impact of COVID-19 on older residents.

The Director of the Castan Centre, Professor the Honourable Kevin Bell AM QC, said the key point of the submission was “the underlying problem with the delivery and regulation of residential aged care in Australia is aged care is treated as a consumer issue upon the basis that it is a business.”

“This has to change. Aged care should be treated as a human rights issue upon the basis that the dignity, wellbeing and rights of aged persons are at stake,” he said.

The submission is being released in advance of the publication of the final report of the Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety on Friday.

It is widely anticipated the Royal Commission will recommend that human rights play a pivotal role in Australia’s aged care system.  Professor Bell said: “our submission will help ensure that Australia’s response to the Royal Commission’s recommendations are continuously monitored by United Nations mechanisms, including the Independent Expert, and judged against internationally recognised human rights standards.”  The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights has advised Professor Bell that the submission will be taken into account in the ongoing work of the Independent Expert, including in relation to ageism and age discrimination and the special challenges confronting older women.

The submission is based on extensive research into the operation of the residential aged care system under COVID-19, including interviews conducted with family members of residents of several facilities where human rights violations are alleged to have occurred.

The alleged violations relate to the communication of and access to information; visitation policies; the treatment of residents belonging to cultural and linguistic minorities; access to food, water and sanitation; access to healthcare services; and restrictive practices (chemical and physical).

The founder of the Professor Joe Aged Care Advocacy Group, Professor Joseph Ibrahim, said: “the greatest failing of our nation in residential aged care is we have the knowledge, skills and capability to deliver a world class system. Yet the abuse, neglect and substandard care continues, largely unabated.”

“The current system of weak enforcement and inconsequential sanctions must change.  Respecting residents’ rights means giving them a meaningful say, as well as increasing the accountability and transparency of government and providers,” he said.

Professor Ibrahim said in order to improve residential aged care in Australia, we first need to address the violation of residents’ basic human rights.

The submission is available on the website of the Castan Centre