Woman suffering from senility
Woman suffering from senility

Cruel elder abuse secrets must end

The professor who at the federal government's request drew up a blueprint to protect older Australians in nursing homes now says the industry's culture of secrecy must finally end.

University of Auckland law professor Ron Paterson co-authored a regulatory review in 2017 into whether the failure to detect longstanding neglect and abuse at a South Australian aged-care facility was an isolated case.

The answer? It was not.

A lack of transparency was among the concerns he raised.

Secrecy surrounding neglect and abuse in nursing homes is one of the key issues raised by the Right to Know coalition of media companies this week in a new campaign against laws that allow cover-ups to occur.

Prof Paterson appeared before the aged-care royal commission two months ago, saying the government had been slow to act on recommendations from his review.

He also said Australia does not publish useful comparative information for consumers about aged-care services.

Increasing transparency was "fundamental to reform in the sector", he said.

"It seems to me that too often we strike the balance in favour of privacy at the expense of … openness of information," he said.

"These are publicly-funded providers and they are providers who are caring for the most vulnerable members of our community.

"Why would the default position be secrecy of information about the providers? That strikes me as odd," he said.

Professor Ron Paterson.
Professor Ron Paterson.

From New Zealand, Prof Paterson yesterday told The Saturday Daily Telegraph he expected the royal commission would recommend less secrecy in the sector.

The co-author of the 2017 review, small business ombudsman Kate Carnell, was unavailable yesterday.

On Friday The Telegraph revealed top aged-care advocates anticipate the royal commission will say more openness is urgently required.

An interim report is due next week.

Yesterday's story explained there were more than 3700 assaults in aged-care facilities in 2017-18, but little is known about where they occurred and what changed in response, if anything.

Online readers reacted angrily.

"What possible reason would there be to keep any of this information secret?" commented Michael.

Senior counsel assisting the royal commission Peter Gray QC has said Division 86 of the Aged Care Act has been raised in evidence as an obstacle to providing information to consumers.

The secrecy created by Division 86 includes "information that relates to the affairs of an approved provider".

The penalty for breaching this provision is up to two years' jail.