Some federal government COVID-19 preparations were 'insufficient', aged care royal commission says

Paramedics take a patient transport trolley into Epping Gardens aged care facility in Epping, Melbourne, Thursday, July 30, 2020. Source: AAP

The federal government says it will allocate $40.6 million to implement the royal commission's recommendations.

Some federal government coronavirus preparations for aged care were insufficient, says a royal commission, which has called for urgent changes to the sector.

The commission on Thursday released a special report outlining urgent measures needed to safeguard the sector and improve residents' quality of life.

It found measures implemented by the federal government on advice from the peak health emergency decision making committee were "in some respects insufficient to ensure preparedness".

"Confused and inconsistent messaging from providers, the Australian government, and state and territory governments emerged as themes in the submissions we have received," the report read.

"All too often, providers, care recipients and their families, and health workers did not have an answer to the critical question: who is in charge?

"At a time of crisis, such as this pandemic, clear leadership, direction and lines of communication are essential."

Minister for Aged Care Richard Colbeck at a press conference at Parliament House in Canberra.
Minister for Aged Care Richard Colbeck at a press conference at Parliament House in Canberra.

Government vows to implement recommendations

Aged Care Minister Richard Colbeck said the government supported all six recommendations made in the report, stating "substantial progress" has already been made on four of them. 

"Every single mortality and death in aged care as a result of COVID-19 is an absolute tragedy and again, we extend our condolences to all of the families who have lost loved ones," he told reporters.

The federal government has announced it will invest $40.6 million in its initial response to the Royal Commission’s report and recommendations.

In a statement, Mr Colbeck said "wherever there are high rates of community transmission, the risk to older people and particularly those in residential aged care increases as demonstrated in Victoria." 

The commission has called for immediate federal funding to ensure elderly residents can be visited by friends and family, as well as the roll out of infection experts at homes.

"Visits from family and friends are critical to the physical, mental and emotional health and wellbeing of people living in residential aged care and also their friends and families," the report said.

"The benefit of such visits cannot be wholly replaced by technology."

The commission also wants the Commonwealth to set up a system where providers could apply for funding needed to facilitate visits.

'Broken for some time'

Aged & Community Services Australia CEO Pat Sparrow said the recommendations would help safeguard aged care residents from the pandemic. 

"The interface between aged care and the health system has been broken for some time. Older people should not have health care rationed," she said.

More than 665 aged care residents have died from COVID-19 in Australia, with outbreaks affecting some 220 facilities.

The report also called on the federal government to increase the availability of health and mental health services to residents and set up a national advisory body.

"Any barriers, whether real or perceived, to allied health and mental health professionals being able to enter residential aged care facilities should be removed unless justified on genuine public health grounds," it said.

'A national tragedy'

Labor's spokesperson for ageing and seniors Julie Collins said the report showed the federal government had no plan for COVID-19 in aged care. 

"The result of the Morrison Government’s catastrophic failure is a national tragedy," she said. 

"The Morrison Government must implement the Royal Commission’s recommendations and it must be transparent about progressing them."

Greens Senator Rachel Siewert also called on the government to act urgently on the findings. 

"It’s shambolic that we have no national coordinating body to address the COVID crisis in aged care," she said. 

"The buck stops with the Commonwealth on Aged Care and so far they have failed dismally."

Recommendations from the aged care royal commission coronavirus report: 

  1. Ensure all aged homes have one or more trained infection control officers as a condition of accreditation.
  2. Deploy accredited infection control experts to homes to provide training and assist with the preparation of outbreak management plans and outbreaks.
  3. Ensure significant outbreaks in facilities are investigated independently and results are shared promptly to the sector.
  4. Create protocols in the plan about who will decide if residents with COVID-19 are transferred to hospital.
  5. Provide funding to providers to ensure adequate staff are available for continued visits to homes by family and friends.
  6. Increase the provision of allied health services, including mental health services, and remove any barriers unless justified on genuine public health grounds.
  7. Establish a national aged care advisory body and plan in consultation with the sector.

Additional reporting: SBS News

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