This week the Office of the Ombudsman announced that it will soon monitor the treatment of patients in private residential aged care facilities and detainees in court cells. The Office of the Ombudsman will undertake this monitoring as part of its mandate under the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture (OPCAT). The OPCAT is premised on the principle that prevention is more effective than dealing with problems after the fact. It features a twin pillar approach to the prevention of ill-treatment, based on the establishment of regular independent visits to places where people are deprived of their liberty by international and national bodies. These bodies work together to establish effective measures to prevent ill-treatment and to improve conditions.
This is a significant step forward and responds to recommendations made in the 2016 “He Ara Tika, A Pathway Forward” report written by Michael White, CEO of Inclusive NZ as part of his role as a Torture Prevention Ambassador.
New Zealand has a higher proportion of people in residential care than most other countries. There have been growing concerns about the quality of care and the treatment of disabled and older people in these settings. There have been reports that patients in privately run aged care facilities have been found deprived of their liberty without legal authority. Moreover, media has recently reported cases where elderly residents were strapped to chairs all day. According to the 2016 Report, “[o]ne issue which creates added complexities to the care situation for this group is the fact that socially unacceptable behaviours such as physical or verbal aggression, disrobing, incontinence and sexual behaviours manifest themselves in the progression of dementia. Dealing with these behaviours is often difficult and if not managed properly can create an environment conducive to abuse and ill-treatment.”
Inclusive NZ strongly supports this announcement and believes that this independent preventive monitoring will go a long way to better protecting older peoples’ rights.
The purpose of OPCAT is to prevent ill-treatment where and when it is most likely. Older people and disabled people are particularly vulnerable. Over time Inclusive NZ would welcome further expansion of OPCAT monitoring to residential disability care services. This monitoring should complement existing audit and oversight frameworks and not increase the compliance burden for providers. Furthermore consideration should be given to the role of liberty safeguards to protect against individuals being deprived of their liberty without legal authority.