Home | Industry+Policy | Government stages last minute response to royal commission, new funding ‘too little, too late’
Prime Minister Scott Morrison at the National Press Club in Canberra. Photo: AAP Image/Mick Tsikas

Government stages last minute response to royal commission, new funding ‘too little, too late’

The government has finally announced its response to the Aged Care Royal Commission special COVID-19 recommendations, accepting all six and adding $132.2 million to the aged care coffers.

Two months ago the commission released its Aged Care and COVID-19 report, urging government action on four areas relating to funding, staffing and infection control across the sector.

The report handed down six recommendations in all, the first being that the government respond to the report in parliament and implement these changes no later than December 1. The response came after 6pm on November 30.

The $132.2 million package includes a $63.3 million investment “to support the mental and physical health of residents of aged care facilities.”

This is in response to recommendation three of the commission’s report, which asked for the creation of MBS items to increase the provision of allied health services, including mental health services, to people in aged care during the pandemic.

Of that $63 million, $35.5 is being used to provide access to Medicare subsidised individual psychological services under the Better Access to Psychiatrists, Psychologists and General Practitioners through the MBS.

There will be $12.1 million for additional individual allied health sessions under Medicare chronic disease management plans and $15.7 million for allied health group services for residents living in facilities affected by COVID-19 outbreaks.

They also announced $57.8 million to improve work across the states and territories in regards to Infection, Prevention Control (IPC).

Recommendation six asked for the states, territories and federal government to “deploy accredited infection prevention and control experts into residential aged care homes to provide training, assist with the preparation of outbreak management plans and assist with outbreaks.”

The new funding will look to extend delivery of high quality face-to-face IPC training to the sector and fund jurisdictions to deploy accredited IPC experts into RACFs to provide training and assist with the refinement of outbreak management plans where needed.

“This investment directly addresses issues raised by the Aged Care Royal Commission and will improve and support the health and wellbeing of aged care residents most significantly impacted by COVID-19,” said Health Minister Greg Hunt said.

Minister for Aged Care Richard Colbeck said the plan was developed in consultation with the Australian Health Protection Principal Committee’s Aged Care Advisory Group (ACAG), which Colbeck said is now a permanent body.

“While we hope there won’t be further COVID-19 outbreaks in aged care facilities or in home care, if it does happen, key learnings will inform the future work of the ACAG and be shared with the aged care sector,” Colbeck said.

Also announced is the formation of a Serious Incident Response Scheme (SIRS) for residential aged care, from 1 April 2021. $11.1 has been set aside for the scheme which “expands the responsibilities of aged care providers to identify, record, manage, resolve and report assaults and a broader range of serious incidents in residential aged care,” Colbeck said.

Colbeck said the new measures met the Royal Commission recommendations and said the government has now invested more than $1.7 billion into the sector.

However, opposition politicians believe the response to the commission’s recommendations are “too little, too late”.

Greens senator Rachel Siewert said the $1.7 billion investment would not have been needed had the sector been ready to handle a pandemic.

“If the sector had been running effectively we wouldn’t have needed to inject $1.7 billion,” she told the senate.

“It had multiple issues, as is evident from the fact that we’ve got a royal commission in the first place. Here we have the government saying that they’ve got an updated plan in response to recommendation 4, which is to ‘establish a national aged-care plan for COVID-19 through the national cabinet in consultation with the aged-care sector’. What the government says in the report that has just been tabled, which we’ve all just laid eyes on, is that there’s an updated national COVID aged-care plan.

“The royal commission clearly knew that in fact there wasn’t an aged-care plan, but the government continues with the myth that there was an aged-care plan — that in fact they didn’t just rip the cover off the general plan and put on a new cover that said ‘aged care’. They’ve updated that. I hope it’s more than just changing the report’s title page.”

Labor senator Kristina Kenneally bemoaned the lack of bi-partisanhip in the response and attacked Colbeck over his aversion to scrutiny.

“I start by making clear that the Labor Party’s capacity to respond to the substance of the minister’s statement to the Senate is limited. It’s limited because the minister has displayed a high degree, an unusual degree, of secrecy around this statement,” she said.

“It is the usual practice, the usual courtesy displayed by ministers in the Senate, to provide a copy of a ministerial statement to the shadow minister in advance of tabling it. I can advise the Senate—and thereby advise the workers in aged care, and the residents in aged care and the families that care for them—that that did not happen. The shadow minister for aged care received a copy of this report at 6pm by email.

“Don’t pat yourselves on the back over there that you put $1.7 billion in, when you took $1.7 billion out under this Prime Minister when he was Treasurer. That is the neglect.

“The aged-care royal commission has an interim report into this government’s handling of the aged-care sector, and it is titled ‘Neglect’. It talks about people starving in their beds, soiled in their bed clothes with ants and maggots in their wounds. That is what we went into COVID with: an aged-care system in neglect, and 700 people died. For the government to continue to pat themselves on the back is a shame. Neglect is the shame of our aged-care system.”

Opposition aged care spokeswoman Julie Collins described the government response as “too little, too late”.

“Today’s response makes it clear the Morrison government has failed and is yet to fully implement all of the recommendations of the Aged Care Royal Commission’s special report,” as reported by the SMH.

The full government response can be found here.

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