Senior public officials and researchers have savaged new rules around the use of chemical and physical restraints in aged care.
The Commonwealth government recently introduced changes aimed at limiting the use of restraints in residential facilities.
But experts believe the regulations have created many more problems than they solved.
They are urging the Commonwealth to scrap the regulations and start again from scratch.
Queensland’s public guardian Natalie Siegel-Brown said the changes placed her agency and the community in a “really compromising” position.
“Unfortunately in their current form, the principles actually regress the recognition of human rights of people living in aged care, particularly with respect to chemical restraints,” she told the committee in Sydney on Tuesday.
“But the entire suite itself lacks any monitoring, enforcement or oversight in any event, and this can lead to greater problems.”
Colleen Pearce, from the Victorian Office of the Public Advocate, said aspects of the regulations were flawed and ambiguous.
“We consider the principles are inconsistent with people’s human rights (and) would preferably be contained in legislation,” Dr Pearce told the committee.
“(The principles) introduce, in the case of physical restraints, a new flawed and ambiguous substitute decision-making regime, provide virtually no regulation of chemical restraint usage, and lack the safeguards of other restrictive practices regulatory schemes.”
Joseph Ibrahim, the head of the Health Law and Ageing Research Unit at Melbourne’s Monash University, described the regulations as stupid.
“There is no monitoring mechanism, there are no sanctions associated, there is no way of implementing or making sure the law comes into effect,” Professor Ibrahim said.
A group of advocates believe the government should be prohibiting the misuse of restraints and over-medication, rather than regulating them.
They argue medication should only be used for therapeutic practices and be administered with a patient’s free and informed consent.
The group includes Aged and Disability Advocacy Australia (ADA) and Human Rights Watch, both of which addressed the hearing on Tuesday.
“Older people in nursing homes are at serious risk of harm if this new aged care regulation is allowed to stand as is,” ADA chief executive Geoff Rowe said.
“Australia’s parliament should act urgently to ensure that everyone, including older people, is free from the threat of chemical restraint.”
The Aged Care Quality and Safety Commission manages complaints around physical and chemical restraints.
It also works with providers to inform their use of the restraints, ensuring they are only used as a last resort.
Chief clinical adviser Melanie Wroth said the commission had various levers at its disposal to deal with rogue aged care operators using restraints inappropriately.
“We are able to vary or revoke accreditation for a service, which has serious consequences for providers, because that means they are unable to receive Commonwealth subsidies,” Dr Wroth said.
From January 2020, the commission will be given greater responsibility for compliance and enforcement, which currently sits with the health department.
“What we’re looking at is a stepped approach with sanctions and enforcement action available,” Dr Wroth said.