Australia: Inquiry into Rule Putting Older People at Risk
(Sydney) – Australia’s parliament should scrap a new rule that allows nursing homes to overmedicate and restrain older people, a group of organizations working for older people’s rights in Australia said today. On August 20, 2019 in Sydney, the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Human Rights will hold a hearing on human rights concerns relating to the new rule. Human Rights Watch, Aged and Disability Advocacy Australia (ADA Australia), and others will appear.
The group includes ADA Australia, Capacity Australia, Dementia Alliance International, and Human Rights Watch. “The Australian government rule is trying to regulate abusive practices that harm older people rather than prohibit them,” said Elaine Pearson, Australia director at Human Rights Watch. “The opening of a parliamentary inquiry into this matter is a critical opportunity to address the regulation’s serious shortcomings.” In April, the Australian government introduced a new rule to regulate both physical restraints and overmedication, also known as chemical restraint, in aged care facilities.
The use of physical or chemical restraints as punishment, control, retaliation, or as a measure of convenience for staff should be prohibited, in line with Australia’s international human rights obligations. Authorities should instead make sure that any medical intervention takes place only with free and informed consent, and that medications are administered only for therapeutic purposes.
The government should prioritize positive support and intervention for people with dementia, including in aged care facilities. On May 23, Human Rights Watch sent a letter to the Australian parliament, urging its joint committee on human rights to move to disallow the Quality of Care Amendment (Minimising the Use of Restraints) Principles 2010. In 2013, the United Nations Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities criticized Australia for allowing practices that would subject people with disabilities, including older people with dementia, to “unregulated behaviour modification or restrictive practices such as chemical, mechanical and physical restraints and seclusion.” The committee called on Australia to end these practices. In addition to the physical, social, and emotional harm for older people restrained with antipsychotic drugs, the use of such drugs in older people with dementia is also associated with a nearly doubled risk of death. It also limits their ability to eat, communicate, think, and stay awake. “Older people in nursing homes are at serious risk of harm if this new aged care regulation is allowed to stand as is,” said Geoff Rowe, CEO at ADA Australia. “Australia’s parliament should act urgently to ensure that everyone, including older people, is free from the threat of chemical restraint.” Human Rights Watch has documented the harm of overmedicating older people living in nursing homes in the Unit.
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