The Coalition government’s handling of the COVID-19 threat to Australians living in aged care was “insufficient” and suffered from confused and inconsistent messaging, a new report has found.
Releasing a special report into the coronavirus crisis, the aged care royal commission warned a comprehensive, defined and consolidated plan to manage outbreaks in facilities was still badly needed, describing the sector’s workforce as under-resourced and overworked.
“It is now also traumatised,” the report released on Thursday afternoon said.
After more than 665 deaths in aged care and thousands of infections among staff and residents around the country, the report called for specialist infection control experts to be deployed to all facilities and a new national advisory body be created.
It would operate alongside the existing federal government regulator and the Australian Health Protection Principal Committee [AHPPC]. The report also called for increases in allied health services and mental health support.
“It is now clear that the measures implemented by the Australian government on advice from the AHPPC were in some respects insufficient to ensure preparedness of the aged care sector,” the report said.
“Confused and inconsistent messaging from providers, the Australian government, and state and territory governments emerged as themes in the submissions we have received on COVID-19.
“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.”
In August, Prime Minister Scott Morrison conceded failures had taken place, apologising to families and flagging a possible shake-up of the sector’s governance. The highest-profile outbreaks include Sydney’s Newmarch House, where 19 residents died and 71 people were infected, and Dorothy Henderson Lodge, where six people died.
Aged Care Minister Richard Colbeck, widely criticised for his lack of command of details of the pandemic’s reach into the sector, welcomed the report’s findings.
The government accepted all six recommendations in the report and said the implementation of at least four major changes were already substantially under way.
“The royal commission’s report tells us the COVID-19 pandemic has been the greatest challenge Australia’s aged care sector has faced and makes six recommendations to better prepare the aged care sector, its staff and residents for any future outbreaks.
“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,” Senator Colbeck said.
Opposition spokeswoman Julie Collins slammed the government for its management and response to the report on Thursday.
“The result of the Morrison government’s catastrophic failure is a national tragedy,” she said.
“The foundations of our country’s aged care system have buckled under the pressure of a deadly disease and the Morrison government did not do enough to stop it.
“Neglect. That’s the legacy of this government when it comes to aged care.”
Greens spokeswoman Rachel Siewert said the government’s response was “shambolic”.
“The buck stops with the Commonwealth on aged care and so far they have failed dismally,” she said.
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