New rules on the use of restraints in aged care could lead to more elderly residents being sedated, a parliamentary inquiry has heard.
The regulation is also unenforceable, and does nothing to relief the staffing pressures that have led to the use of restraints, expert witnesses have said.
The Federal Parliament's joint committee on human rights was urged to revoke the regulation, which was introduced to limit the use of chemical and physical restraints by aged care providers, during public hearings on Tuesday.
Queensland public guardian Natalie Siegel-Brown said there had been a lot of pressure placed on representatives to allow physical restraints to be used on their clients.
Ms Siegel-Brown said some aged care homes would not allow their clients to discharged from hospital into their facilities without consent for the use of physical restraints, leaving the elderly patient stuck.
"If a representative doesn't consent my fear is that there's going to be a resort to the use of chemical restraints so I fear there'll be a surge in the use of chemical restraints," Ms Siegel-Brown said.
Professor Joe Ibrahim from Monash University's Health Law and Ageing Research Unit said the regulation also did not recognise the pressures within aged care that forced staff to use restraints.
"Staff restrain residents to get through their day because they don't have enough hands to get through what's needed or they don't have the skills, knowledge, ability to assess why a person has responsive behaviours or unmet needs to address that," Professor Ibrahim said.
"A law that isn't monitored, has no sanctions, no way of checking, it will drive practice underground."
Queensland Nurses and Midwives Union professional officer Jamie Shepherd said he knew of a case where one registered nurse had to administer medication to 166 residents on night shift, and management resisted rostering on an enrolled nurse to help until the RN threatened to call an ambulance each night to assist.
Australian Nursing and Midwifery Federation federal professional officer Julie Reeves said through a recent member survey, she learnt of an aged care home where there were just six staff rostered on overnight to look after 420 residents.
"We cannot always effectively manage challenging behaviour issues for dementia residents while at the same time caring for others who have very complex health issues. We receive little to no support from management when things don't go as planned," she quoted the member as saying.
Australian Human Rights Commission president, Emeritus Professor Rosalind Croucher said while parts of the regulation had merit, it should not be allowed to proceed unless there was a mechanism for independent oversight.
"If it's a choice of it or nothing, nothing might be better than it as it is," Professor Croucher said.
But officials from the Department of Health said spelling out all of the circumstances under which chemical restraints could be prescribed was unworkable.
Assistant secretary of the aged care reform and compliance division Amy Laffan said there were other pieces of legislation that required informed consent for the use of chemical restraints.
"I wouldn't say there are fewer safeguards, I would say there are fewer safeguards within this piece of regulation," Ms Laffan said.
Ageing and aged care principal medical adviser Dr Bernie Towler said there was a series of state and territory regulations that punished doctors and nurse practitioners for overprescribing.
"They're accountable for that behaviour, they can be sued for that behaviour, they can be struck off by their medical boards," Dr Towler said.
Aged Care Minister Richard Colbeck said minimising the use of restraints in aged care was a "top priority".
He did not answer questions about the shortcomings of the regulation, but said the government would consider recommendations from the committee "as appropriate".
"The Aged Care Royal Commission is also independently examining the use of restraint in aged care," Senator Colbeck said.