New aged care rating ‘outdated’, say critics

There are calls for a new aged care rating tool to be pulled down, with several providers and the Opposition complaining of out-of-date information “distressing” older Australians ahead of Christmas.

A rating system that gives older Australians a way to compare aged care providers has been launched by the federal government, enacting a recommendation of the aged care royal commission.

The star system ranks aged care providers from one to five, and while just 1 per cent received a five-star rating, 91 per cent received a rating of three stars or more.

On the My Aged Care government site, where the rating tool is found, providers with a three-star rating are listed as “acceptable”, with four stars being “good” and two stars labelled as “needs improvement”.

But shadow aged care minister Anne Ruston said she had spoken to several care providers who had expressed concern about out-of-date information on the site.

“It is very concerning that the government has published these ratings without making sure they’re accurate,” Senator Ruston said.

“It is really quite distressing that the department would provide this out-of-date information that misleads older Australians and their families, particularly leading into Christmas.

“I would say to the department it should remove or pull down these ratings until it can be absolutely sure and guarantee Australians that the information contained in those ratings is accurate and up to date.”

Senator Ruston said the site was misleading users by failing to reflect improvements or decline in service.

For example, the Blue Haven Bonaira aged care facility in Kiama, NSW, has a three-star overall rating and a four-star compliance rating, with a note saying it has had no compliance issues in a year as at the end of September.

However last month, the council-owned facility was revealed to have failed six of eight compliance standards, and an improvement notice was issued over its finances.

The office of aged care minister Anika Wells argued the facility could still appeal the review, and that was why it had not been updated on the rating website.

The Department of Health and Aged Care said it had tried to validate the data and was engaging with providers to make sure the ratings were accurate before they were published.

“Star ratings relies on regulatory decisions made by the Aged Care Quality and Safety Commission as well as consumer experience results collected by a third-party vendor and self-reported information from providers,” it said.

“Star ratings can change daily to show the most contemporary compliance information.

“Certain regulatory decisions made by the Aged Care Quality and Safety Commission provide aged care providers with an opportunity to respond to these before the outcome is finalised.”

Anne Ruston touches her glasses while standing at a press conference
Anne Ruston says an aged care rating tool should be withdrawn due to it showing out-of-date scores. (ABC News: Andy Kennedy)

Senator Ruston said compliance data should be updated daily, and the government made mistakes in a rush to “tick and flick” the program.

“For the department to knowingly be providing information in the public domain that they know may not be up to date or accurate is very, very distressing,” she said.

“We cannot have a situation where providers are having to check the star ratings after they have been published publicly.

“The Labor government has no regard for the amount of pressure aged care providers are currently facing, particularly those in regional, rural and remote Australia.”

Council of the Ageing CEO Patricia Sparrow said people using the tool should be able to expect up-to-date information, and recommended contacting the Aged Care Quality and Safety Commission about out-of-date information.

Ms Sparrow said the tool was still a welcome development that would see more providers improve their ratings over time.

“While three stars is acceptable, I think what we want to see is improvement across the board,” Ms Sparrow said.

“There’s something about transparency for any provider seeing and being able to compare and see where they are sitting against their competitors.”

More indicators to be added next year

The system measures providers against four categories: compliance, resident experience, staffing and quality measures.

Resident experience is based on face-to-face interviews with residents, staffing is rated on staff and registered nurse minutes per resident per day, and quality is measured using quarterly figures on pressure injuries, physical restraint, unplanned weight loss, falls and medication management.

Other indicators including daily living activities, staff turnover and quality of life are due to be added next year.

The aged care royal commission found the aged care system was failing to meet the needs of older citizens, was unkind and uncaring and, in too many instances, neglectful.

Ms Sparrow said there would be a “long path of reform” towards better standards.

“A lot of things are moving and changing, so I’m sure we will see changes to the star rating system over time,” she said.

“We’ve still got a way to go to get it right, and all of these initiatives are part of that, but it’s going to take time.”

Aged Care and Community Providers Association CEO Tom Symondson said the positive ratings for so many providers showed services were offering “everything they are funded by the government to provide”.

“They have achieved this despite extraordinary funding and workforce challenges,” Mr Symondson said.

A star rating system was one of the recommendations to come from the royal commission, aimed at giving Australians more information but also giving providers a way to measure improvement.

The My Aged Care site, set up by Labor in 2013 before it lost office, was previously labelled “frightening” and “confusing” by older people, royal commissioners found.

Announcing the rating tool in a statement, aged care minister Anika Wells said the new system would make choosing an aged care home simpler.

“You can drill down to what’s important to you, be that the food or specific quality indicators,” Ms Wells said.

“Star ratings will enhance accountability, transparency and capability within the residential aged care sector.”

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