Aged care complaints at arms length from department

By Stephen Easton

Monday January 4, 2016

Complaints about aged care services will now be entirely handled and investigated by an independent commission, as recommended by the Productivity Commission in its far-reaching 2011 reform blueprint, Caring for Older Australians.

The transfer of powers from the Department of Health took effect on January 1 and completes several years of incremental change since the appointment of Rae Lamb as the first permanent aged care commissioner five years ago.

Rae Lamb
Rae Lamb

Lamb is now referred to as the “aged care complaints commissioner”. She is supported by a team of 150 staff situated around the country.

While complaints were always a key part of the commissioner’s job, ultimate responsibility rested with the secretary of the Department of Social Services, and for a brief period with the Department of Health following a machinery-of-government change in early November.

Lamb now handles and investigates all complaints about federally funded aged care services, whether provided in the community or a nursing home. Anyone can now make a free call to the commissioner’s office and lodge a complaint directly, or do so online. “The elderly and their families can have confidence any complaint about aged care services funded by the Australian Government will be treated fairly,” she said.

Lamb’s powers were strengthened in August 2013 so that she could force DSS to re-examine aged care complaints, where previously she could only make recommendations to the department.

The former New Zealand radio correspondent and health academic, who later became the NZ deputy health and disability commissioner, has two more years left in her current appointment.

Health Minister Sussan Ley says the latest change will further empower consumers in the complaints process by separating it “completely” from the public servants who administer funding and regulation of aged care.

Ley points out medical expert and former New South Wales health care complaints commissioner Merrylin Walton also recommended a totally independent complaints system in 2009, two years before the Productivity Commission took the same view in its own comprehensive review of the whole sector.

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