Yesterday the Aged Care Royal Commissioners, the Honourable Tony Pagone QC and Lynelle Briggs AO, released a special report on the COVID-19 pandemic in aged care.
The report identifies four areas for immediate action to support the aged care sector:
- First, the Australian Government should fund providers to ensure there are adequate staff available to deal with external visitors to enable a greater number of more meaningful visits between people receiving care and their loved ones.
- Second, the Australian Government should create Medicare Benefits Schedule items to increase the provision of allied health and mental health services to people living in residential aged care during the pandemic to prevent deterioration in their physical and mental health.
- Third, the Australian Government should publish a national aged care plan for COVID-19 and establish a national aged care advisory body.
- Finally, the Australian Government should require providers to appoint infection control officers and should arrange for the deployment of accredited infection prevention and control experts into residential aged care homes.
Senator Richard Colbeck, Minister for Aged Care and Senior Australians, responded to the report, stating that the Government would accept all six of its recommendations:
“The recommendations build on the Government’s existing COVID-19 measures. The Government will invest $40.6 million in our initial response to the Royal Commission’s report and recommendations.
“It has been continuously building and adapting the National Response Plan for COVID-19 in aged care since January 2020, with the aged care sector and with state and territory governments and health authorities, incorporating lessons learned from Australia and other countries.
“We have invested more than $1.6 billion to support senior Australians in aged care since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. The investment includes an additional $734.8 million announced in August to extend support for the sector’s response to the pandemic as part of the aged care response plan.”
However, health and aged care groups and opposition parties have argued that this response is inadequate to address the longstanding underfunding of aged care and called for additional support, in particular for home care packages to support older people who wish to remain in their homes.
Below Croakey editor Jennifer Doggett summarises some of the responses from the aged and health care sectors and current and former federal politicians.
Jennifer Doggett writes:
Shadow Minister for Aged Care, Julie Collins, said that the report confirmed that the Federal Government didn’t have a comprehensive, detailed plan to deal with COVID-19 outbreaks in residential aged care.
“For the families and the loved ones of the 667 older Australians that have died in residential aged care today that is an absolute tragedy. The report confirms that the Government didn’t do enough and didn’t do it soon enough, which is what Labor has been saying all along.
“We’ve tried to be supportive of the Government throughout this process during COVID-19. We’ve offered the Government solutions and ideas and frankly, the Government didn’t do enough and didn’t do it fast enough.
“The result of the Morrison Government’s catastrophic failure is a national tragedy.”
The Australian Nursing and Midwifery Federation
The Australian Nursing and Midwifery Federation (ANMF), welcomed the Aged Care Royal Commission’s six recommendations which it said must be implemented immediately to manage COVID-19 in aged care but says it doesn’t go far enough to protect older Australians living in nursing homes.
“Nursing homes desperately need additional nurses and care staff to provide safe, effective care outcomes for residents, not just to enable more visitors. While that is critical for the wellbeing of residents, more staff are urgently needed just to meet basic needs for residents in far too many nursing homes,” Federal Secretary, Annie Butler said.
“Our members have been on the frontline during the pandemic and have witnessed how it has stretched staff and resources even further, again demonstrating the importance of having sufficient staffing levels and skills mix, to cope with intensified demands and workloads.
“In Victoria, where privately-run nursing homes set their own staff ratios, there’s been more deaths and higher rates of COVID-19, than in Government facilities, which have mandated minimum staffing levels, including registered nurses on every shift.
“We welcome the recommendation for immediate additional funding but reiterate the need for greater transparency for any additional Government funding, because aged care providers must be held accountable – and actually use the money for its intended purpose of employing additional nurses and carers for the depleted sector.”
Leading Age Services Australia
Leading Age Services Australia (LASA), the national association for all providers of age services across residential care, home care and retirement living/seniors housing thanked the Aged Care Royal Commission for their special report on aged care and COVID-19.
“Protecting older Australians receiving care and support in our aged care system from COVID-19 is a national priority and this report and its recommendations will make a big difference,” said LASA CEO Sean Rooney.
“The recommendations to Government make protecting and maintaining the physical and mental health of older people in care the end game, not a blame game.
“The recommendations are built on the lessons we have learned as our understanding of the coronavirus has evolved. Specifically, we see the need for focussed actions to both prevent the risk of infections in aged care and to respond to infections if they occur.
“Having at least one fully accredited infection control officer in every aged care home is vital, with additional training provided to maximise protection.
“We believe the Government’s National Aged Care Advisory Group should be expanded with more sector specific expertise, to reflect the recommendations of the Royal Commission report.
“The national, state and territory public health response procedures must be welded together and prioritised for outbreak management, linking the health and aged care interface, including agreed protocols on the transfer of infected residents to hospital.
“Further, having integrated national and local plans which are understood and have been stress-tested by health and aged care services are crucial to ensure that older Australians in care are kept safe in the event of widespread community outbreaks.”
Council on the Ageing
The Council on the Ageing (COTA) Safer at Home campaign called for next Tuesday’s Federal Budget to ensure no older Australian waits more than 30 days for a home care package, as official figures show at least 19,000 older Australians waiting for home care were forced into a nursing home last year because they couldn’t get the care they need at home.
COTA Australia Chief Executive, Ian Yates, said the Aged Care Royal Commission’s COVID-19 report, exposed critical failures by some residential aged care providers to provide care and quality of life for older Australians during the pandemic.
The Royal Commission’s Interim Report in October 2019 also revealed the chronic shortage of packages that would support people to stay at home as they age and recommended that the Government take immediate action.
“At least 20 percent of older Australians already in residential aged care during this pandemic don’t need to be there. That’s 50,000 people that can’t remain safer at home because the system has let them down, and let their families down.”
He said COTA had been inundated with calls from older Australians and their families concerned about loved ones in residential aged care and frustrated at not being able to get support and care at home.
“Many older Australians end up hospitalised with illness or injury that could have been avoided if they had more help. Many are are also isolated and alone in their homes without support – which is the key cause of poor mental health and deterioration in older people, often resulting in premature admission into residential aged care.
“It is a situation that we would not accept at any other stage of life and should not be acceptable as we age either.”
Aged and Community Services Australia
Pat Sparrow, CEO of Aged & Community Services Australia (ACSA) called for better coordination between the health and aged care sectors in order to improve the care of older Australians.
“These are fantastic recommendations to safeguard aged care from the pandemic and the government should adopt them urgently.
“The interface between aged care and the health system has been broken for some time. Older people should not have health care rationed.
“The Medicare benefits schedule numbers and improved hospitalisation policy as proposed by ACSA will be big steps forward if implemented,” Ms Sparrow said.
Catholic Health Australia
Catholic Health Australia welcomed the recommendations made by the Royal Commission into managing COVID-19 outbreaks in aged care homes and encouraged the Morrison Government to move on them swiftly so that we are better prepared to deal with any further surges.
CEO Pat Garcia said “I want to thank the Commissioners for holding this important inquiry into what has been a national tragedy.
“The Government is already acting on the Commission’s recommendations and needs to continue working with the states and territories to ensure a co-ordinated national response.
“We know the tragic consequences delays can have on this vulnerable cohort of society, we have all seen the ghastly tally and we must do whatever we can to ensure it doesn’t happen again.
“Our members continue to work with the Government in protecting the elderly in our care and to treat them with compassion and dignity.”