EXCLUSIVE: Privately-run rehab centres to face greater scrutiny in Australia

Stock image.
Stock image.

PRIVATELY-run drug rehab centres are set to face greater scrutiny and accountability – but the changes will not fully come into effect until 2021.

Currently there is no overarching regulation of the private rehab industry, which has grown substantially as drug use continues to rise and publicly-funded treatment options remain scarce.

Earlier this year, the Ministerial Drug and Alcohol Forum endorsed a National Quality Framework (NQF) that will ensure a nationally consistent approach to ensuring quality of services for all providers.

A Federal Department of Health spokesman said the NQF was in effect now, however it included a transition period for providers to move to a specified list of accreditation standards from July 1, 2021.

The specified list is the subject of further work between the Commonwealth, states and territories and is expected to be available by early next year.

Edith Cowan University senior lecturer in addiction Stephen Bright said one of the biggest issues in the sector was the lack of regulation of treatment services.

“It’s scary that anyone can set up a private rehab clinic,” he said.

“You don’t see this absence of regulation in the aged care sector, in fact in no other part of the health care industry would you be able to set up a service and for there to be no monitoring of what they do or their outcomes.

“Some of these privately-run centres have no accountability. They are not required to collect data on their success rates, report any suicides during or after treatment or be accountable for their methods.

“Government-funded alcohol or drug treatment services, and public and private hospital services, are at least required to maintain quality standards through established health accreditation processes.

“We need to protect consumers and their families by ensuring the treatment they receive is evidence-based and underpinned by best practice.”

The Western Australian Network of Alcohol and Other Drug Agencies (WANADA) chief executive Jill Rundle said ensuring access to quality alcohol and other drug services had long been a priority for the organisation.

“Under the NQF, services not funded by government would be required to be equally accountable to those funded by government,” she said.

“This includes being certified against an approved management system standard, which would examine implementation of evidence-based practice.

“Licensing and accreditation would be enforced by state regulatory bodies.

“They would need to demonstrate and verify outcomes and key performance indicators, including those that are consistent with government-funded service requirements.”

Mrs Rundle estimated there were at least half a dozen privately-run clinics operating in WA without any oversight.

“The community deserves to have confidence in services provided – whether they are government funded or not there must be accountability.”

Health Minister Roger Cook said the State Government was supportive of the NQF.

“The Mental Health Commission does not have jurisdiction, legal or contractual, over services it does not commission,” he said.

“This framework will be applicable to all alcohol and other drug providers who operate in Australia, including those that receive State Government funding and those not receiving State Government funding.

“It establishes guiding principles that will be used to assess which existing accreditation standards should be used by all alcohol and other drug treatment providers.”

“Work is currently underway to map the new guiding principles against the different accreditation standards being used by treatment providers. “

Dr Bright said until the government established accreditation requirements for private drug treatment services, the public should check whether the service was accredited through a recognised health accreditation standard.