Does using restraints constitute negligence in nursing homes?

Published 16 Mar 2018

Australia is an ageing nation. The federal government spent $17 billion on aged care in 2015-16, according to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare.

Placing a loved one in an aged care facility can be distressing, but some people simply don't have the resources to look after elderly relatives, particularly those with dementia and other serious health needs.

Nevertheless, nursing homes are bound by a duty of a care to their residents much in the same way medical practitioners have an obligation to patients. The use of physical restraints in aged care facilities has therefore become a controversial topic in recent years.

How often are restraints used in Australia? What are the legal and ethical ramifications? And can residents or their loved ones claim compensation for misuse of physical restraints? Let's try to answer some of these questions.

Physical restraint guidelines

Aged care facilities are allowed to use physical restraints on residents, but the Australian Medical Association (AMA) states they should only be utilised sparingly and after all other options are exhausted.

Before using physical restraints, nursing homes should consider:

  • A resident's right to self determination;
  • The possibility of harm to the resident; and
  • The possibility of harm to staff and others if restraints aren't used.

The frequency with which physical restraints are used is difficult to confirm, with several studies highlighted in an Alzheimer's Australia report showing prevalence ranges from between 12 and 49 per cent.

"The least restrictive form of restraint should be used and it should be viewed as a temporary solution. It must be time limited and subject to regular review." the AMA states.

Restraints and nursing home negligence

A 13-year Monash University study found that five people have died while restrained in nursing homes across Australia. The research indicated the real figure is likely much higher due to under-reporting of such incidents.

In one of the deaths, the coroner ruled the use of restraints as inappropriate. Staff had improvised a belt from a lifting machine, which was too short and fastened across the resident's legs rather than behind the chair.

In cases where the use of restraints posed a risk to the resident's safety or established protocols were ignored, a nursing home negligence claim could succeed if the individual suffers injuries or dies. However, every case has unique circumstances, so please seek professional advice from a personal injury lawyer to better understand your chances of receiving compensation.

Please contact Gerard Malouf & Partners Compensation, Medical Negligence & Will Dispute Lawyers to find out more.