In June 2020, the Australian Government announced that an Aged Care Serious Incident Response Scheme (SIRS) would commence in June/July 2021. However, following the recommendations made by the Aged Care Royal Commission in its COVID-19 Special Report, released in October 2020, the timeline for SIRS has been brought forward to April 2021.

This announcement comes as the Aged Care Legislation Amendment (Serious Incident Response Scheme and Other Measures) Bill 2020 was passed into Parliament in early December 2020.

The Australian Government has invested $67.9 million to date into SIRS, with the intention of driving quality and safety improvements across all levels of the Aged Care Sector.  

SIRS will require Aged Care Providers (Providers) to manage all incidents, and, in the event of an incident, implement systems and measures in order to ensure that any incidents of the same or similar nature do no reoccur in the future.    

Overall, SIRS will significantly increase the regulatory powers of the Aged Care Quality and Safety Commission, providing additional resources allowing the Commission to administer the Scheme and take regulatory action when and where necessary. This will include wider enforcement powers with civil penalties, infringement notices, enforceable undertakings and injunctions able to be imposed on various Provider responsibilities.

Impact of SIRS on Reporting

SIRS will impact the entire aged care sector, and as such, there will be immediate effects of which all Providers should be aware. Under SIRS:

  • Providers will be expected to manage all incidents;
  • Providers and Regulators are to focus on reductions in preventable incidents;
  • The range of reportable incidents will be broadened to include neglect, psychological and/or emotional abuse and inappropriate physical or chemical restraint;
  • The current reporting exemptions with respect to resident to resident incidents, where the perpetrator suffers with a cognitive impairment, will no longer continue;
  • Funding will be allocated for a prevalence and feasibility study to inform future government decisions in implementing SIRS in home and community aged care; and
  • Funding will be allocated to investigate the design, implementation and regulation of a worker register for aged care.

What should Providers do to prepare?

Noting that SIRS will come into effect in April 2021, it is very important that Providers begin to prepare for its implementation and effects.

As such, Providers should begin to:

  • Undertake assessments and management of current processes in relation to incident reporting and escalation;
  • Ensure that all staff are adequately trained and informed on the relevant reporting and escalation processes and requirements;
  • Review existing policies and procedures in order to ensure that they are relevant and informative;
  • Assess current incident prevention methods to ensure that they are implemented effectively;
  • Allocate resources to ensure a streamlined internal reporting structure and escalation process; and
  • Conduct a review of any previous incidents to identify situations where reporting and/or escalations processes were not met, with the view of isolating these incidents and preventing future errors.

How can BBW Lawyers assist Providers?

The team at BBW Lawyers has extensive experience in the aged care sector, having worked with Providers of all sizes in a traditional external advisory role, as well as through senior secondments and in previous in-house roles.

Our experience enables us to advise and facilitate both internal and external discussions with key stakeholders, with a specific focus on regulatory compliance, and to work closely with Providers to manage and implement strategies to ensure such compliance.

Although the implementation of SIRS will ultimately increase the obligations and requirements placed on Providers, all Providers should welcome the opportunity to revisit and improve their current incident management processes.

BBW Lawyers remains committed to working with our clients to ensure that SIRS brings a positive change in a sector dedicated to ensuring the wellbeing of ageing Australians.

For further information or should you require any assistance, please contact John Fairgray, Balveen Saini, or Josh Mizzi