The aged care royal commission has handed down its COVID-19 report and the message to Scott Morrison and his government is clear: act fast, act now.
The report, Aged Care and COVID-19: a special report, outlines four areas that need immediate action and six recommendations overall, the first of which is that “the Australian Government report to the Australian Parliament no later than 1 December 2020 on the progress of their implementation”.
The first area of urgent attention is, unsurprisingly, funding. The commissioners call for the government to provide funding to providers so that there are “adequate staff available” to deal with the increased workloads brought on by the pandemic.
The commissioners also want the mental health of aged care residents addressed and urge the government to create MBS items to increase allied health and mental health services to people living in care.
Third on the list of immediate actions, the commission wants a national aged care plan for COVID-19, the establishment of a national aged care advisory body, and lastly that all providers must be required to appoint infection control officers and deploy infection control experts in their homes.
“Now is not the time for blame,” the report says. “There is too much at stake. We are left in no doubt that people, governments and government departments have worked tirelessly to avert, contain and respond to this human tragedy.
“However, the nation needs to know what lessons have been and can still be learnt.
“The recommendations we make are important and the public has a right to know how the Government has responded to them,” the commissioners said.
Pat Sparrow, chief executive of Aged & Community Services Australia, says the recommendations are “fantastic” and need to be adopted without delay.
“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.”
LASA chief executive Sean Rooney welcomed the recommendations, in particular the call for infection specialists in aged care.
“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.”
However, not all groups think the report goes far enough. The Australian Nursing and Midwifery Federation announced that it is “disappointed and concerned” that the commission doesn’t address staffing levels more specifically.
“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,” said ANMF federal secretary Annie Butler.
“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.”
Meanwhile, the United Workers Union has called out the Aged Care Minster, Richard Colbeck, specifically, saying that there needs to be more consultation with workers to solve the crisis.
“Listening to aged care workers is vital to understanding the failures in aged care Senator Colbeck is responsible for,” said UWU aged care director Carolyn Smith.
“Senator Colbeck has spent a lot of time ducking his responsibility for this crisis – it’s time he looked aged care workers in the eye and heard from them what’s going on.
“Aged care workers are challenging Senator Colbeck to meet as a matter of urgency to discuss their solutions.”
In a joint statement Health Minister Greg Hunt and Colbeck said the government accepts the recommendations and has already made progress on four of them.
“Every life lost to the pandemic is a tragedy,” they said.
“But the collective efforts of our health workers and health officials and our COVID-19 Aged Care Plan have helped save thousands of lives and placed Australia at the forefront of the global response to COVID-19.”
27,110 people have contracted the coronavirus in Australia, 890 of whom have died.
Of those 890 people, 667 have died in residential aged care facilities.
2049 people living in residential care have contracted the virus so far.Do you have an idea for a story?
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