Australian aged care homes get ‘five stars’

The aged care sector in Australia is facing criticism as nearly 150 aged care homes that did not meet minimum safety and care standards were reportedly awarded four- or five-star compliance ratings in the past year. This has raised concerns that families seeking suitable care for their loved ones may be misled by the star rating system.

The star rating system, introduced in December 2022 to assist families in making informed decisions about aged care facilities, has been criticized by former advisers to the aged care royal commission. According to the advisers, a flaw in the system appears to prioritize providers over consumers.

Aged care homes are regularly inspected by the Aged Care Quality and Safety Commission (ACQSC) to ensure they meet minimum quality standards. When homes fail to meet these standards, they are listed on the ACQSC’s non-compliance register, but these breaches are not necessarily considered when awarding star ratings unless formal action is taken by the ACQSC.

A report by Rodney Jilek, an adjunct professor at the University of Canberra, found that out of 501 homes listed on the non-compliance register between November 2022 and November 2023, 68 were awarded five-star compliance ratings, and 81 were given four-star compliance ratings. The report suggests that a three-, four-, or five-star rating does not necessarily guarantee that the basic minimum standards of accreditation are met.

The ACQSC’s executive director, Peter Edwards, defended the system, stating that a finding of non-compliance alone does not impact a service’s star rating. He emphasized that formal action by the commission is required to affect a service’s star rating. However, critics argue that this approach can be misleading for consumers who may assume that a three-star rating implies an acceptable level of care.

Charles Maskell-Knight, a former health department official and senior adviser to the royal commission, expressed concerns about the flaws in the star rating system, describing it as “clearly constructively misleading” for consumers. He emphasized that consumers should not have to read fine print to understand that a failure to meet quality standards only matters if the regulator takes formal action.

The debate over the effectiveness and transparency of the star rating system highlights the need for accurate information to enable consumers to make informed decisions about aged care facilities for their loved ones. Critics argue that the competitive market in aged care requires precise and reliable information to ensure the well-being of residents.

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