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What is the Serious Incident Response Scheme?

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The 2019 federal budget includes a commitment of $1.5 million for preparatory work for the new Serious Incident Response Scheme to commence in July 2022.  Providers may be wondering just what this scheme is and what additional red tape it will impose on them.

The Serious Incident Response Scheme was recommended by the Australian Law Reform Commission in its 2017 report “Elder Abuse—A National Legal Response”.  The ALRC was asked to undertake an inquiry into “Protecting the Rights of Older Australians from Abuse” as part of the Government’s recognition of the potential for elder abuse to grow given the ‘inescapable demographic destiny’ of an ageing population.

The ALRC recommended that a National Plan to Combat Elder Abuse be developed as well as changes to the law in relation to aged care, appointment of enduring appointments, wills, banking, social security, superannuation, family agreements and guardianship and financial administration.

The aged care specific reforms recommended to address these risks included:

  • establishing a serious incident response scheme in aged care legislation;
  • reforms relating to the suitability of people working in aged care—enhanced employment screening processes, and ensuring that unregistered staff are subject to the proposed National Code of Conduct for Health Care Workers;
  • regulating the use of restrictive practices in aged care; and
  • national guidelines for the community visitors scheme regarding abuse and neglect of care recipients.

The ALRC recommended that the serious incident response scheme should:

  1. Require approved providers to notify to an independent oversight body:
    • an allegation or a suspicion on reasonable grounds of a serious incident; and
    • the outcome of an investigation into a serious incident, including findings and action taken.
  1. Replace the current responsibilities in relation to reportable assaults.
  1. Require the oversight body to monitor and oversee the approved provider’s investigation of, and response to, serious incidents, and enable it to conduct its own investigations of such incidents.

A ‘serious incident’ should mean:

  1. physical, sexual or financial abuse;
  2. seriously inappropriate, improper, inhumane or cruel treatment;
  3. unexplained serious injury;
  4. neglect;

However where the incident is committed by another care recipient, it should mean:

  1. sexual abuse;
  2. physical abuse causing serious injury; or
  3. an incident that is part of a pattern of abuse.

In home care or flexible care, ‘serious incident’ should mean physical, sexual or financial abuse committed by a staff member against a care recipient.

An act or omission that, in all the circumstances, causes harm that is trivial or negligible should not be considered a ‘serious incident’.

The “preparatory work” may result in a scheme that is includes some or all of these recommendations. The only information available in the budget papers was that the new scheme will require residential care providers to report a broader range of incidents occurring in their facilities.

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