Home' Australian Ageing Agenda : AAA Jan-Feb 2015 Contents sustained drop in the number
of providers and consumers
making an appeal to the
To further improve
complaints handling and public
confidence in her oversight
role, Lamb has also instigated
her own initiatives.
In 2013, she requested
that the scheme provide a
twice-yearly update on its
progress in implementing
to its processes. This
system of follow-up has
since been introduced for
recommendations to the
In the first year of the
initiative, the commissioner
found that while action
on many recommendations was underway, most had yet to
be completed by the scheme. In the 2013-14 financial year
the Commissioner reported timelier implementation of her
The intersection between complaints and accreditation is also
on Lamb's agenda.
Following concerns raised by complaints to her office and in
the media, Lamb introduced an initiative in May 2014 to examine
the referral of information that may raise systemic issues from
the complaints scheme to the Quality Agency. n
Since her new powers came
into effect, Lamb says she
has been satisfied with the
way in which the scheme has
responded to the directions
from her office and its
reconsideration of complaints.
As a result of her powers, she
says action has been taken to
improve aged care services and
providers have been encouraged
to apologise where it is due.
Last financial year, Lamb
directed the scheme to re-
examine 11 complaints, which
represented 48 per cent of
appeals to her office since 1
August 2013. In four of the
11 cases, the commissioner's
direction resulted in the aged
care service having to apologise
and acknowledge failings to the
Lamb says her new powers are rare and significant for a
commissioner. "To have the power to be able to direct the
Department of Social Services ... is quite significant and perhaps
addresses the concerns that people may have about the degree to
which there is independence and oversight over what happens in
the complaints scheme."
Lamb says any complaints scheme will never get it right all the
time and having an independent commissioner examine and direct
the scheme to revisit a complaint, where appropriate, will make a
difference to outcomes and improve confidence in the system.
While the legislative change to her role is important, she says
that in practice her recommendations to the department have
been followed in close to 100 per cent of cases.
Lamb's experience is a significant improvement from past
years when the 2009 Walton Review reported that in 2007-
08 the department disagreed with approximately 12 per cent
of the commissioner's recommendations and 10 per cent
of recommendations in 2008-09. The inaugural Aged Care
Commissioner Rhonda Parker told Professor Merrilyn Walton
during the review that her capacity to effect change and drive
quality was limited and her recommendations to improve the
scheme's processes were not well received.
AN INDEPENDENT SCHEME
When I ask for her views on a key recommendation of the Walton
Review - the structural separation of aged care complaints from
the department - Lamb acknowledges there are benefits and
disadvantages in both models. However, she says demand for change
may have receded somewhat since the height of the Walton Review.
"I'm not convinced at the moment there is a huge groundswell
of concern about the need for there to be further change to
the Aged Care Complaints Scheme," she says. "I know there is,
and continues to be, some concern from consumers around the
scheme and the extent to which it meets their expectations but
I'm not convinced that that is absolutely to do with the fact that it
is based in the department.
"I have noted since the complaints scheme changed to a
resolution-based model rather than an investigation-based one
that service providers are certainly not coming to my office
and complaining about the scheme. In fact, they have just
She says the silence from providers is noteworthy and
suggests a level of acceptance or contentment by service
providers with the scheme.
Having the complaints body inside the department
also allows for compliance action to be taken easily where
complaints have highlighted risks that require urgent action by
the regulator, she says.
Following the shift from the Complaints Investigation Scheme
to local resolution in 2011, Lamb has also observed an overall and
Rae Lamb on
THE INFLUENCE OF HER
It has given me a pretty general view of the world, and
as a health correspondent a strong understanding of the
consumer point of view. Journalists learn to look at things
from all sides and understand the need for accuracy and
impartiality. That has helped a lot in this role. Also, most
journalists are generalists rather than experts and have
to learn to quickly identify the real issues and come up to
speed on complex matters.
HER WATCHDOG FUNCTION:
I don't have particular concerns around my independence.
I feel I am providing independent oversight and people
can have confidence that I am outside the department.
I'm appointed by the minister and I certainly cast an
independent eye over complaints to me about what
the department has been doing. It is extremely rare for
someone in a position like mine to have the ability to
direct the department to do something and I can do that.
There are three things that service providers need to
think about - resolution, protection and learning. Start
thinking about what it will take to resolve this complaint
and settle the concerns for the person involved. You also
need to think from the protection point of view; does this
complaint highlight any risks or safety issues that need to
be addressed straight away, and making sure opportunities
to improve care highlighted from the complaint are
identified and acted on. I also urge providers to be aware
there may be a power imbalance and consumers should be
encouraged to use advocacy services for support.
"To have the power to be
able to direct the Department
of Social Services... is quite
significant and perhaps
addresses the concerns that
people may have about the
degree to which there is
independence and oversight
over what happens in the
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