A shake-up for the rest home sector is on the cards - including a new watchdog to help stamp out poor care.

Associate Health Minister Jenny Salesa has revealed she has asked the Ministry of Health for advice about possible reforms, and options covered include establishing an Aged Care Commission.

Preliminary advice sent by officials this week outlined the possible scope of responsibilities and functions of such an office.

"This advice will be considered in consultation with other Ministers to determine next steps."


Salesa's statement came after Grey Power told the Herald it was disappointed and frustrated that no commitment had been made to set up an Aged Care Commission, and concerned for the safety of some in aged care.

A Herald investigation earlier this year found a third of the country's 651 aged-care facilities have had recent shortcomings related to resident care.

Residents have died from festering bedsores, and in one case a family found maggots hatching in their father's sores.

Other issues include a lack of food and incontinence supplies and a 95-year-old forced to sleep in a recliner chair for 24 days because an adjustable bed wasn't available.

Legislation introduced this week in Australia will set up a new independent Aged Care Quality and Safety Commission to crack down on widespread failures in rest home care.

In New Zealand, both Labour and the Green Party went into the election with policy to set up a similar watchdog.

The two parties together with Grey Power held an inquiry into the sector shortly before last year's election, and produced a report calling for big changes.

Those included updating voluntary aged-care standards and making them mandatory, and setting up the Office of the Aged Care Commissioner and position of Aged Care Commissioner, to help enforce standards.


Other recommendations were to set up a star rating for rest homes, and investigate whether the current process for complaints from residents and families is good enough.

Salesa said the inquiry recommendations did not form part of the Coalition Agreement with NZ First. The advice she received this week from officials related to the Labour-Greens-Grey Power inquiry recommendations.

"The advice covers a number of options to address the issues raised by the inquiry. This includes the possible scope of responsibilities and functions of an Aged Care Commissioner and office, the fit with responsibilities and functions of existing related bodies, and the ministry's current work to provide quality and safety in aged care."

Grey Power national president Mac Welch has said any Aged Care Commissioner would need to have legal powers to give bite to enforcement.

"The Australians have obviously recognised that their system is weak in that area, and they are creating such an office. And funding it rather generously."

Winston Peters said this week that NZ First doesn't have a policy about an Aged Care Commissioner, but he was happy to put it on the caucus agenda for discussion.

Growing old in New Zealand

• About 36,000 New Zealanders live in over 650 aged-care facilities, including rest homes, hospital-level care and dementia units

• There are about 83,000 New Zealanders aged 85 or older – a number forecast to rise to up to 284,000 by 2043 and 467,000 by 2068

Safety and care concerns

In a series of articles the Herald has reported on failure in care including:

• An elderly man had maggots hatch in open wounds

• Residents dying from festering - and preventable - bedsores

• A 95-year-old slept in a recliner chair for 24 days because an adjustable bed wasn't available

• A dementia patient unlawfully charged a weekly fee for a "premium" room

• Elderly residents strapped to chairs all day with minimal movement or repositioning

• Residents claiming caregivers would withhold medication as punishment

• A chef went to authorities, claiming his budget worked out to just $1.60 per resident, per meal