AGED CARE ADVOCATE: Heather Mansell Brown says the royal commission would need at least two years to get to the bottom of the issues that plague the sector.
AGED CARE ADVOCATE: Heather Mansell Brown says the royal commission would need at least two years to get to the bottom of the issues that plague the sector. Contributed

Claims of drug abuse in region's aged care homes

THE woman who has championed the push for a royal commission into aged care has spoken out about some of the biggest issues facing the sector in the region.

The royal commission, which kicks into gear tomorrow, is an independent assessment following national claims of abuse and neglect.

One of those claims was that of Heather Mansell-Brown's, whose husband Bill suffered shocking neglect at a TriCare facility.

The NewsMail's report led to widespread national coverage of issues in aged care, with the Queensland Nurses' and Midwives Union crediting it with exposing problems such as staff shortages.

But as the royal commission gets under way, Mrs Mansell-Brown says she's gravely concerned about the role of drugs in the region's aged care facilities.

Mrs Mansell-Brown says on one hand, residents are having medication stolen for use by some staff members, while on the other, drugs are being over-used to subdue the elderly.

"My biggest concern is the drug taking, stealing from the residents and using it themselves," she said.

Mrs Mansell-Brown said she had received numerous reports from concerned locals that drugs were being taken from facilities and in many cases this resulted in the elderly occupants not getting the medicines they needed.

She fears things will only get worse from April, when assistant nurses will be given the power to hand out medications with only minimal training.

Mrs Mansell-Brown said unemployed people were being encouraged to take up aged care without proper medical training, with potentially deadly consequences.

"They're pulling people off the dole and we do know there's drug abuse in nursing homes," she said.

"They come in off a six-week course and think they know it all."

The other drug-related issue that Mrs Mansell-Brown says is endemic in the region is chemical restraint.

Some elderly residents, she says, are being given massive doses of drugs including fentanyl and endone.

Mrs Mansell-Brown said anyone with a friend or family member in aged care should keep an eye on chemist receipts and look out for them being "more tired and more dopey" than usual, as well as any suspicious bruises.

She said good staff were leaving the sector in droves because of stress.

"(The facilities) are trying to get rid of registered nurses and especially enrolled nurses," she said.

"I'm starting to think they should be called factories for olds."

Mrs Mansell-Brown said she hoped action would come from the royal commission, expected to be finalised by October.

"I don't think they realise how bad the situation is," she said.

"I think it'll go for two years and if it doesn't they're not doing it properly."

A spokeswoman for the royal commission said she could not confirm whether the royal commission would come to Bundaberg.

Mrs Mansell-Brown said a petition to mandate nurse-to-resident ratios in aged care had reached close to 300,000 signatures.

To sign the petition, go to