Aged care indictment and cure: Royal Commission’s COVID-19 aged care report

Article published 7 October 2020

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THE Aged Care Royal Commissioners’ special report on COVID-19 in residential aged care is as much an indictment of the federal and state governments’ unpreparedness as it is a solution. And it is not just a solution for dealing with COVID-19, but also the way forward for when things return to normal.

The Commissioners have recommended that to get accredited, nursing homes should have one or more trained infection control officers as a condition of accreditation. The Government should support these staff with training and the preparation of infection control and prevention management plans.

The question of course is why it took a Royal Commission to get this happening. The vast majority of COVID deaths have been in residential aged care. The paramount importance of infection control and prevention was demonstrated by what happened in nursing homes in Europe. Also, every year hundreds and sometimes thousands of nursing home residents fall victim to the flu or die of complications following gastro outbreaks. The absence of a meaningful infection control capability has been killing nursing home residents for decades.

The Commissioners want the Australian Government to make money available immediately so that additional staff can be hired and residents’ lives return to some form of normality. Right now many nursing home residents are imprisoned in their rooms, without visits from family and friends.

The lack of staff was a prominent finding of the Commissioners’ interim report back in October last year. Nothing has been done in the meantime.

The Commissioners have put paid to the notion that once you’re in a nursing home all your needs are taken care of. The Commissioners want nursing home residents to have access to counselling and other mental health services to help them cope with an incredibly scary time, but also when things get back to normal. Access to healthcare is a universal right. It extends to nursing home residents.

The recommendation for a national aged care plan for COVID-19 is an indictment of aged care regulators and the Government. We’re nine months into the pandemic and we still don’t have a national plan. The Commissioners want a national aged care advisory body to write and implement the plan.

Unfortunately, the Commissioners are silent on who should have membership of this advisory body, risking lack of input by nursing home residents and their representatives. This is an important omission, because the plan will set out residents’ rights to visits and hospital transfers.

The Royal Commissioners mean business and want the Government to implement its recommendations immediately and account for implementation by 1 December.

The Aged Care Minister is reported as saying that the Government accepted all the report’s recommendations and had “already” worked to progress four of them.


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