Duty of care is the legal obligation to ensure a person can live their life safely and free from harm.
In aged care, this means providing the necessary care and support to help older Australians to maintain their health and wellbeing. It also involves minimising any risks to an older person’s health and safety.
The Charter of Aged Care Rights in Australia clearly states that everyone is entitled to:
- Safe and high-quality care and services
- Be treated with dignity and respect
- Have their identity, culture and diversity valued and supported
- Live without abuse and neglect
- Be informed about their care and services in a way they understand
- Access all information about themselves, including information about their rights, care and services
- Have control over and make choices about their care, and personal and social life, including where the choices involve personal risk
- Have control over, and make decisions about, the personal aspects of their daily life, financial affairs and possessions
- Be listened to and understood
- Have a person of their choice, including an aged care advocate, support them or speak on their behalf
- Complain free from reprisal, and to have their complaints dealt with fairly and promptly
- Personal privacy and to have their personal information protected
- Exercise their rights without it adversely affecting the way they are treated.
How can duty of care be applied in aged care?
There are several ways in which duty of care can be applied in aged care. Staff may be required to:
- Provide personal care and assistance with activities of daily living
- Monitor an older person’s health and wellbeing
- Respond to any changes in an older person’s condition
- Create a safe and supportive environment
- Provide information and support to families and carers
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How is duty of care enforced in aged care?
Aged care providers in Australia have a duty of care to their residents. This means they must take reasonable steps to protect residents from harm and provide them with quality care. Aged care providers must also ensure that staff are adequately trained and qualified to provide care.
There are various ways in which duty of care is enforced in aged care in Australia.
- The Department of Health and Ageing (DoHA): The DoHA is responsible for setting standards for aged care providers. Aged care providers must meet these standards to be registered and accredited (and they undergo regular checks to ensure they are compliant).
- The Aged Care Quality and Safety Commission (ACQSC): The ACQSC is responsible for inspecting aged care homes and ensuring they meet quality and safety standards. If an aged care home is not meeting these standards, the ACQSC can take enforcement action, which can include suspending or cancelling their registration.
Residents of aged care homes and their families/loved ones have a right to complain if they believe their rights have been breached or mistreated in any way. Complaints can be made to the Aged Care Complaints Commissioner, who will investigate the complaint and take appropriate action.
To ensure the Charter of Aged Care rights is adhered to, personal care plans are very important. These ensure there is not a ‘one size fits all’ method of care and that individuals receive attention and care that matches their specific needs.
Personal care plans are very much essential when seniors are struggling due to dementia or complex medical issues. When a plan is created and followed, they will be safer, healthier and have a better quality of life.
The dignity of risk
Duty of care includes allowing aged care residents ‘the dignity of risk’. While it may seem counterintuitive, this means allowing people to make their own decisions, even if they are at risk of failing. It ties into giving seniors a sense of independence.
Choosing decor for a room or deciding to take part in a (safe) activity falls under the dignity of risk category. The outcomes may not necessarily be positive but because the risk is within reason, the person should have a right to choose.
What are the duty of care obligations of an aged care worker?
An aged care worker in Australia includes anyone who works in the industry. These workers have a duty of care to their clients, regardless of their specific role. This means they must provide safe and effective care and take all reasonable steps to protect their clients from harm. Aged care workers must also comply with all relevant legislation, regulations, and policies.
Aged care workers typically have a range of duties, including providing personal care, assisting with meals, and managing medication. They may also be responsible for domestic tasks such as cleaning and laundry and providing transport to appointments and personal care assistant duties in aged care.
Aged care workers may work in a variety of settings, including aged care homes, community centres and clients’ homes.
Working in aged care can be both rewarding and challenging. It is essential to be aware of the job’s physical and emotional demands and have a good support network in place.
Example of a breach of duty of care in aged care
The aged care industry is held to very high standards in Australia and most facilities set exceptional standards when it comes to duty of care.
One example of a breach of duty of care in aged care is failing to provide adequate supervision of residents. This can lead to residents being injured or worse. Other examples include failing to manage medications properly or not providing enough staff to meet the needs of residents.
Failing to train people correctly is also an example of breach of duty of care by an aged care facility.
After a recent investigation into aged care at a federal level, the industry has been overhauled and sweeping reforms have been implemented, which has included increased funding for providers. As a result, duty of care is prioritised and regularly reviewed to ensure breaches are minimised.
Specific aged care worker duties and responsibilities in regard to duty of care
Here is a basic rundown of the specific aged care duties and responsibilities of each aged care worker as an example of duty of care in aged care:
Aged care nurses:
A registered nurse (RN) at an aged care facility has probably the most responsibilities of any staff member. Along with their clinical role, the RN also has administrative work that is essential to maintaining the well-being of aged care residents. They are responsible for medical strategies, care plans, management, and administration. They are also in charge of assistant nurses and often manage other aged care workers at the facility.
Registered Nurses are in charge in instances when outside GPs and other medical health professionals can’t attend the site due to conditions like a flu outbreak or severe weather.
Many aged care facilities now always have a Registered Nurse on the premises.
Non-medical aged care workers:
Non-medical workers at aged care facilities also have a duty of care to the residents. While they must report medical issues to medical staff, they are often given responsibility for environmental problems. For instance, if an aged care worker walks past an obvious trip hazard and does not take steps to report or remove it, they are not carrying out their duty of care.
Non-medical aged care workers are usually responsible for domestic tasks such as laundry and cleaning. Providing residents with a clean and healthy environment is a significant part of duty of care.
Aged care assistants:
Assistant nurses in aged care are there to help and support registered nurses. They do not have the same level of skill and training as RNs and therefore do not have as many duties and responsibilities. However, they are still held to a high standard of aged care duty of care and must always work in each resident’s best interest.
Aged care nurses and assistants are required to apply the directives of each individual’s care plan. They should have access to these plans, so they know what to do.
Aged care night shift:
Night shift staff have all the same duty of care responsibilities as daytime workers, with a few obvious exceptions. They are responsible for not disturbing the peace and quiet while still maintaining their duties. As part of their responsibilities, they must also respect that it is night-time, and residents have the right to sleep and privacy.
Activities Officers, otherwise known as Lifestyle Officers, have the additional duty of care to ensure activities such as art, music or cooking are within the residents’ capabilities. They will need to monitor how each resident is coping with the activity and intervene as necessary.
Aged care supervisors:
Aged care supervisors have an additional duty of care to staff to go along with the duty of care for all residents. Supervisors are responsible for the safety and well-being of everyone at their facility, including the people who work there.
Supervisors are also responsible for training and professional development. Part of this training ensures that staff are aware of their own duty of care responsibilities.
Home care workers:
Home care workers visit seniors in their homes to help them with upkeep, maintenance and chores. Along with the duty of care for the well-being of their patients, home care also has a duty of care to act responsibly in their patients’ homes.
Home care nurses:
Home care nurses are usually RNs, so they also have all the duty of care expected of equivalent staff at an aged care facility. They also have the duty to respect their patients’ homes and privacy.
How to choose an aged care provider that makes duty of care a priority
As well as following the requirements of their jobs, the best aged care workers act with compassion and empathy. When they are supported in the right way, they can do their job well and aged care residents will feel comfortable being around them.
A quality home sees duty of care in aged care as a given and expresses its commitment easily and consistently. It will have clear guidelines, processes and systems that ensure the Charter of Rights of Aged Care is always adhered to.
The best aged care facilities also invest heavily in training and supporting their staff, so it is easy for them to follow duty of care requirements and they do not feel overworked.
When researching aged care facilities, look at reviews and recommendations from past residents and their families. These will give you peace of mind about the care applied on a day-to-day basis.
Visit the largest aged care reviews website at https://agedcarereviews.com.au/ to find helpful reviews of facilities near you.
Aged Care Decisions can help you find suitable aged care providers
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