Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
 Download Current HansardDownload Current Hansard   

Previous Fragment    Next Fragment
Wednesday, 4 November 1992
Page: 2604


Mr ROBERT BROWN (Minister for Land Transport) (8.04 p.m.) —I move:

  That the Bill be now read a second time.

I am pleased to introduce to the House, on behalf of the Minister for Aged, Family and Health Services (Mr Staples), a Bill which provides further measures to consolidate the Government's support for elderly people living in hostels and nursing homes. The first of these measures involves amendments to the Aged or Disabled Persons Care Act to allow for the introduction of sanctions against hostels which fail to comply with standards of care and quality of life for residents and also the establishment of hostel standards review panels. These amendments bring hostels into line with nursing homes, where the Commonwealth can take action in circumstances where nursing home proprietors are not providing residents with the quality of life and care which frail older members of the Australian community deserve.

  As occurs in respect of nursing homes, standards monitoring teams now assess compliance of hostels against gazetted standards. These standards were developed by a committee which had representatives from State governments, industry, union and consumer organisations, and they have been in effect since 1 January 1991. The proposed amendments provide the Commonwealth with the ability to suspend payment to an organisation operating a hostel if that hostel is not complying with the standards. The suspension applies only to hostel places which are or become unoccupied after the Minister makes a declaration that the hostel does not comply with the standards. The effect of this action is that the hostel does not receive additional financial assistance for new residents.  The amendments will also provide a peer review mechanism for a hostel operator who seeks review of the assessment of the hostel's compliance with standards.

  While the majority of hostels for frail older persons are providing a high level of care, there are unfortunately some which could provide better standards of care. In extreme cases, financial sanctions can be imposed. The Government's experience with nursing homes is that there is a significant improvement in the performance of nursing homes which are not complying with standards only after the Department has written to the proprietor and told him that a declaration of failure to meet the standards will be served. It is at this juncture, with the introduction of the measures in this Bill, that the hostel operator will be able to seek a review from a hostel standards review panel. These panels will have members from the industry who are senior managers and command respect and stature among their peers.

  The amendments to the Aged or Disabled Persons Care Act permit the Minister to make orders providing for the membership and conduct of the panels. If the panel recommends to the Minister that a declaration of failure to comply is appropriate, it may also recommend that the Commonwealth suspend the payment of financial assistance to the hostel for new residents. A similar sanction has been available in parallel circumstances for nursing home proprietors since 1991. In that time, the Department has taken this course of action against 12 nursing homes.

  The Bill also seeks to amend the National Health Act in order to implement a 1992-93 Budget initiative providing funding to upgrade nursing homes. There is considerable variation in the standards of accommodation offered in nursing homes. Many nursing home proprietors, while aiming to provide good quality care, have difficulty in meeting the Government's outcome standards or health and fire safety standards because they are operating in old or unsuitable buildings. The initiative in this Bill will enable nursing home proprietors to undertake substantial upgrading work which has been identified as necessary for the well-being of their residents but which they might not otherwise be able to afford. It provides an incentive for substantial upgrading that will improve the quality of care provided to the nursing home residents, and hence their quality of life. The benefit will be paid as a monthly recurrent benefit over a period of 10 years and will be calculated in accordance with a formula based on a maximum cost per bed.

  Finally, with regard to aged care measures, the Bill seeks to amend the National Health Act to make provision for a nursing home adviser to be appointed to a nursing home that has breached the conditions of approval for approved nursing homes. The legislative amendment gives nursing homes which may otherwise be closed an opportunity to improve their performance. The role of the adviser will be to assist the proprietor of the home to comply with the conditions of approval and will usually be someone with experience in the management of aged care facilities. If the proprietor is unwilling to accept and pay for an adviser, then the normal sanctions process would continue, including closing the home if that becomes necessary. The proprietor of the home will continue to be responsible for the management of the home under the National Health Act, and the adviser will have no legal responsibility or liability under the Act.

  The Bill also makes amendments to the Health Insurance Act to rectify an anomaly in the legislation that prejudices pathology practices which merge. Currently when two and more pathology practices merge, the resulting approved pathology authority, APA, that emerges loses the right to temporary licensed collection centres. A limited number of temporary licences are available to APAs for collection centres they operated prior to the restructuring amendments. Temporary licences are a transition arrangement that operates until 1 February 1994.

  It is a desirable outcome of the 1991 budgetary changes that APAs merge or are absorbed by other APAs, thereby reducing the excess capacity which provides an incentive to overservice. These amendments seek to remove a disincentive for mergers. In addition, the amendment ensures that the Minister's power to vary or revoke a determination of the maximum number of licensed collection centres which an approved pathology authority may operate is not restricted by the operation of section 23DNC of the principal Act. On behalf of the Minister, I commend the Bill to the House. I present the explanatory memorandum to this Bill.

  Debate (on motion by Mr Jull) adjourned.