Be Prepared for the Serious Incident Response Scheme

By Tinashe Harris
7 May 2021

The Serious Incident Response Scheme (SIRS) is an Australian Government initiative administered by the Aged Care Quality and Safety Commission (ACQSC) commencing on 1 April 2021. The Aged Care Legislation Amendment (Serious Incident Response Scheme and Other Measures) Act 2021 became law on 1 March 2021.  SIRS is a further measure in the fight against elder abuse in Australia.

The main purpose of SIRS is to bring greater transparency into the issue of serious incidents that occur in aged care, and to enable a system which will effectively respond to and take steps to prevent the incidence of neglect and abuse of older Australians in residential aged care and residential aged-care settings. The law requires residential aged care approved providers to report all serious incidents to the ACQSC Commissioner (the first tranche takes effect on 1 April 2021), expands the powers of the ACQSC and includes a wider range of reportable incidents, including:

- unreasonable use of force;

- unlawful or inappropriate sexual contact;

- psychological or emotional abuse;

- unexpected death;

- stealing or financial coercion by a staff member;

- neglect;

- inappropriate physical or chemical restraint; and

- unexplained absence of care.

Aged care approved providers now have a mandatory obligation to take reasonable steps, in a short turnaround, to prevent the incidence of neglect and abuse of older Australians in residential aged care, and also have a responsibility to report and manage incidents through implementing and maintaining an incident management system.

The four key elements of an Incident Management System are:

  1. documented policies and procedures;
  2. a recording tool;
  3. a staff training program; and
  4. a governance/oversight arrangement.

Whistleblowers play an important role in identifying and calling out misconduct and harm. In-order to comply with the new SIRS requirements, we believe that an aged care provider must have an effective whistleblowing policy, including a strategy for dealing with any whistleblower reports received. This may form part of the aged care provider’s broader governance or compliance measures.

Providing staff and other stakeholders (eg. relatives and friends of residents) with an independent third-party reporting mechanism which allows them to anonymously report issues that are reportable under the SIRS is an important governance tool. It also provides the organisation with information that the organisation can then effectively understand and deal with appropriately.

Without such a mechanism, employees and stakeholders may feel the need to approach the regulator directly. In this case, the first time that senior management and the Board become aware of an issue is when the regulator comes calling—potentially unannounced. Such scrutiny may impact negatively on the reputation of the organisation.

The implementation of SIRS is moving at a fast pace which requires aged care providers to react quickly to prevent adverse action by the ACQSC Commissioner.

For further advice and assistance setting up and managing a whistleblower hotline, assistance implementing an Incident Management System, or to engage an independent investigator to investigate a matter, contact our team at PKF.