The aged care industry attracts the most empathetic of workers and passionate of individuals when it comes to providing quality care to residents. Yet, the experienced business owner would be wary of relying solely on the goodwill of employees to protect the rights of their residents; and meeting the codes of practice in aged care. Especially since these employees work so intimately with residents’ physical and emotional needs.
That is where Codes of Practice come in. A developed industry Code of Practice serves as a standardised moral compass for otherwise completely unrelated organisations. This applies, naturally, to the aged care industry as well; a crucial necessity for the protection of the vulnerable elderly under employees’ care.
Of course, as per the unending progress of modernity, new versions are constantly being doled out. Not to mention the sheer number of related organisations and peak bodies who have vested interests in protecting aged care consumers. Each of them have interdependent guidelines for aged care providers; and all that information can get really overwhelming, really fast.
We’ve taken the liberty of summarising all their advice into one executive summary of the Codes of Practice in aged care; all of which are pertinent to aged care providers in Australia. So buckle up: a lot of useful information is coming your way.
The different codes and why they matter
Before we continue, let us pause here and take some time to appreciate the difference between Codes of Ethics, Codes of Conduct, and Codes of Practice. These three types of codes are often used interchangeably, but as can be guessed, each have specific purposes, the distinction of which would be useful for the detail-oriented and compliant business owner.
Codes of Ethics
Codes of Ethics may go by many names: business codes, integrity codes, codes of honour—the list goes on. The important thing to remember about them is much simpler and takes its main moniker quite literally. Such codes are meant to influence the ethical conduct of professionals in an industry. These are typically developed by a trade association and monitored and enforced by that body.
These principles rarely come from the government-level, but adhering to the stipulated conventions would allow staff members to remain in good standing with their colleagues and other industry professionals.
In the aged care industry, the ethical codes are usually subsumed in Codes of Conduct or Codes of Practice. From which workers may infer how to behave ethically. Take the following excerpt on accreditation standards as set by the Australian Aged Care Quality Agency (ACQA) as an example:
“The four standards that must be met cover areas such as management, staffing, health and personal care, resident lifestyle, living environment, catering, cleaning, continuous improvement, and safety and security.”
These standards do not specify the ethics behind practical considerations. But the earnest aged care worker will garner from these precepts areas that protect the interests of residents. From there, it follows that ethical behaviour for the aged care worker includes ensuring a high standard of living for residents in those specific ways. We all know they deserve their basic rights as human beings.
Aged care consumers deserve the highest of standards (source)
Codes of Conduct
A Code of Conduct describes the working standards that all care workers must live up to, in terms of ethics, behaviour and attitude. Based on that definition alone, it already becomes clear how the Codes influence each other. The principles of leading with compassion and practicing empathetic care work are the basis of the Code of Conduct. Aged care workers in particular have both a personal and professional responsibility to uphold this.
Usually, Codes of Conduct are distinguished for consisting of practical standards that govern client relationships. This includes rules such as enforcing the necessity of registering aged care workers under proper national registration standards, and allowing an avenue for complaints to be made against a registered health practitioner whose conduct falls short of specifications.
To address concerns that many aged care workers are unregistered, for instance; the Australian Law Reform Commission proposed that aged care workers be held to the standards of the National Code of Conduct for Health Care Workers.
These national standards, when imposed, hold both registered and unregistered aged care workers susceptible to disciplinary action when the Code is defied—also known as a negative licensing scheme.
Codes of Practice
A Code of Practice is not antithetical to the Code of Conduct that applies to professionals. In fact, it is usually synergistic with it. Truth be told, only some scholars choose to distinguish between the two. However, here we make the distinction to zoom in on the standards that must be upheld by aged care practitioners specifically.
A Code of Practice entails a technical document delineating the standards for members of a profession; it speaks to an industry’s commitment to a certain standard of professionalism against which all members are held strictly accountable. This includes rules that promote safety, integrity, and fairness, among other qualities that ensure compulsory common practices are upheld across industry professionals.
Summary of the types of Codes
It is important to remember that these Codes are not mutually exclusive, but work hand in hand to guide the aged care worker in proper conduct and ethical practice. Before it becomes too complicated with the number of terms appearing, let’s think of the Codes in an inverted pyramid:
- Codes of Ethics draw on values and principles to influence ethical behaviour;
- those same principles influence the Codes of Conduct that guide the actions of nationwide practitioners; and
- within an industry, the Codes of Practice set the technical standards that specify what practitioners should do in scenarios arising out of the operation of their profession.
Yes, we know—this may all seem like just semantics. At the end of the day, these codes share the goal of articulating behavioural standards of practice that responsible organisations should value. Importantly, the liable aged care provider must always stay on top of guidelines in the Codes of Practice in aged care; especially in a time as sensitive as during a global pandemic.
We want to make it easy for such providers to know the Codes of Practice in aged care most pertinent to them; particularly the precautionary measures added in lieu of COVID-19. And so was born the following summary, for your convenience.
A strong technical grasp of the Codes makes for a better aged care provider (source)
The Codes of Practice in Aged Care
When it comes to the Codes of Practice in aged care, there are a few key stakeholders that all industry professionals remain accountable to at all times. These include, but are not limited to:
- The Australian Government’s Department of Health. Their primary purpose in relation to aged care is to protect the rights of all who receive aged care services; this is done in part through the deployment of such legislations and legislative bodies as:
- Charter of Aged Care Rights, made under the Aged Care Act 1997
- Aged Care Quality Standards for government-funded services
- National Aged Care Mandatory Quality Indicator Program for government-subsidised residential aged care establishments
- Serious Incident Response Scheme (SIRS)
- Australian Law Reform Commission (ALRC), who has their own Code of Conduct for Aged Care Workers
- The Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety. This was established as a surveying authority to improve the systems around existing aged care services; and provide reports on how to better look after older people
- The Australian Aged Care Quality Agency (ACQA), mentioned earlier. They are responsible for the review of aged care homes and the deployment of accreditation. Additionally, they also have to monitor the efforts of accreditation standards
Other aged care industry peak bodies who publish their own codes and guidelines, sometimes collaboratively but either way which usually overlap with each other, including but not limited to:
- Aged & Community Services Australia
- Council on the Ageing (COTA) Australia
- Dementia Australia
- Leading Age Services Australia
- National Seniors Australia
- Older Persons Advocacy Network (OPAN)
Each of these municipalities have their roles and specific concerns. However, as might be gathered from the outlined list, the number of sources to constantly keep a lookout for can be overwhelming. This summary seeks to compile and thematise their rules and recommendations in a one-stop executive summary of the Codes of Practice in aged care. Let us begin.
Code No. 1: Protecting the dignity, respect, and choice of residents
Across stakeholders, one of the first few things to unavoidably be emphasised is the right for all consumers of aged care services to have access to an uncompromisable standard of care. This therefore promotes treatment that features dignity and respect for residents and ensures their ability to live without abuse and neglect.
A consumer’s freedom of choice, where possible, should never be infringed upon. This includes the freedom to express their full identity in terms of culture and diversity. Including the freedom to access all information about themselves especially as it pertains to their rights, care and services. As well as the freedom to make choices that might involve personal risk.
There are laws in place that protect these freedoms. These should always be made available to consumers of aged care services. The Charter specifies that aged care providers must help all consumers understand their rights. Each provider must sign the Charter (having thoroughly explained it) and enter a compliance agreement with their consumer in doing so.
This Code of Practice is the most basic and fundamental, but remains an age-old priority. The relationships between service providers and consumers in aged care have an inherently skewed power differential. Therefore, upholding this Code of Practice, not just to be lawful but also ethical, would ensure that that does not get taken advantage of.
Code No. 2: Consistently improving care services with ongoing assessments and two-way communication with consumers
As overstretched as aged care workers often are, it may be tempting to fall into comfortable, pre-established processes that allow service operations to proceed as smoothly as possible. Yet of course, on the ground this does not happen quite so neatly.
This Code of Practice recognises the unique needs and desires, whether personal or medical, of each aged care consumer that engages in a service. Ongoing assessment and planning, according to the Aged Care Quality and Safety Commission, focuses on the health and well-being optimisation stage of the provider-consumer relationship, in which consumer preferences are taken into account.
It is exactly the danger of falling into a rhythm that does not make sense to the specific needs of individual consumers that incited the creation of the previously-mentioned Royal Commission. Providing an aged care service is an evolving process, not a stagnant staircase leading to success. This Code of Practice serves as a useful reminder for all earnest aged care professionals.
Code No. 3: Ensuring high standards of technical care
This Code of Practice may seem self-explanatory, but more considerations surface than immediately meets the eye. For one, the registration status of aged care workers vary, especially those in positions such as assistants in nursing or personal care workers. Without the proper accreditation, there is a risk that standards of care may drop.
This is what prompted the ALRC to propose that aged care workers be held accountable. Specifically under the National Registration and Accreditation Scheme. It aims to maintain public safety by ensuring only suitably competent practitioners are allowed to provide sensitive care services.
Aged care providers may uphold this Code by getting accreditation under the Aged Care Quality and Safety Commission, which will give them approved aged care provider status and hold them to their standards, as elaborated below.
In general, consumers have a right to safe and effective personal care and clinical care. Regarding whichever combination of the two that best serves their needs. This includes considering high-impact or high-prevalence risks that the consumer is associated with. As well as responding to deteriorated mental health, cognitive or physical functions in a timely manner.
Code No. 4: Maintaining an orderly physical environment for consumers
The service environment in which residents find themselves must be conducive to their general well-being and ability to find a sense of belonging. Aged care providers may be swept up in the undoubtedly important business of residents’ medical and emotional needs, but must remember not to do so at the expense of their living environments.
The optimisation of such service environments include spaces that feature welcoming characteristics that cater to age-related changes and disabilities. This Code of Practice can double up as a good exercise for the empathetic aged care worker to take a walk in the shoes of consumers, to understand how they might interact with the space and what changes to make in lieu of their evaluations.
Consider for instance this positive example. A resident in an aged care facility is trying to get to the communal dining area from his room. The latter of which is decorated and furnished with as many personal paraphernalia as is within reason; he is the sentimental sort. His eyesight is deteriorating but he likes going around on his own and being independent.
Thankfully, the hallways leading to the dining room are well-lit and the ample directory signages along the way. This provides inclusivity that guides the design of the space. In general, residents of this aged care facility feel a sense of belonging within the premises. The staff members are also eager to take feedback on the service environment whenever a consumer’s needs change.
The architecture of the physical building notwithstanding, basic hygiene standards must also be met. How comfortable residents feel in the service environment is highly dependent on the cleanliness and maintenance of the spaces around them. There are statutory requirements and national best practices just on this, but we will not belabour the point. Anything that promotes the free movement of consumers is the way to go.
One of the commonly missed aspects to take into account under spatial considerations is the best way for an aged care provider to manage their visitors. If left unmitigated, congestion in the reception area can severely detract from the efforts of making the space safe and comfortable. Especially during times like COVID-19, in which social distancing is paramount.
This is why the proper visitor management system is a must-have in upholding this Code of Practice.
Code No. 5: Providing an avenue for feedback and complaints
The final Code of Practice we’re giving appropriate fanfare here. All aged care providers having systems in place to receive and resolve complaints. This has immense relationship-building benefits and often works to humble even the most experienced of service providers, reminding them once again who remains at the heart of their business.
In fact, consumers should not just be supported to make complaints or give feedback, but should even be encouraged to do so. It keeps organisations accountable to all these aforementioned Codes and making sure the process of improvement (rightly) never ceases. In line with this goal, the practice of open communication and transparency should be valued. No point keeping in the dark the very people we are here to protect.
Of course, after receiving feedback, remember to respond swiftly and with a firm hand. Such a direct line of communication is your chance to be proactive about solving previously hidden issues. The great thing about providing these crucial avenues is the direction it gives your organisation and the confidence with which you can pave the path to providing better care services for residents.
Summary of the codes of practice in aged care
Being a responsible aged care provider is no easy feat. However industry members can take comfort knowing the proper employment of these Codes of Practice in aged care do not have to be so technical. Lead with empathy, and aged care consumers will be the better for it.
That’s exactly the reason why these guidelines keep changing and new practices always come into play. Because for the sake of these residents, no standard is good enough not to improve.
Then again, “leading with empathy” can be too abstract and vague. With new visitor restrictions cropping up because of the pandemic; there are concrete ways to keep your aged care facility from allowing visitor management to become a liability. These allow staying true to the above Codes of Practice in aged care. The best kinds are customisable and keep up with updated ACQS requirements; so you don’t have to check this list manually for every scenario.
Zipline offers a one-stop digital visitor management solution. This ensures your residential aged care facility remains 100% compliant to evolving restrictions, sans the research on your end. Book a demo now.
About the author
Other than for work, Marielle loves writing for fun (fantasy fiction is her not-so-secret mistress). She is also an intense Broadway and Disney geek and sometimes sings professionally.