COVID-19 report identifies immediate areas for action
Aged Care Royal Commissioners, the Honourable Tony Pagone QC and Lynelle Briggs AO, have handed a special report on the COVID-19 pandemic in aged care to the Governor-General, His Excellency, General the Honourable David Hurley AC DSC (Retd).
The report is the result of a hearing of the Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety into the impact of COVID-19 on aged care, which was held in Sydney from 10 to 13 August 2020. Read the report here.
The COVID-19 pandemic has been the greatest challenge Australia's aged care sector has faced. Those who have suffered the most have been the residents, their families and aged care staff. This report makes six recommendations, among them, a requirement that the Australian Government report to the Australian Parliament no later than 1 December 2020 on the progress of their implementation. 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.
When the Royal Commission was established in 2018, nobody could have foreseen that the aged care sector would be in the grip of this pandemic as the Royal Commissioners approached the end of their work. The Royal Commissioners have responded with the release of this report in advance of their Final Report, to be delivered to the Governor-General on 26 February 2021.
When the Royal Commissioners announced their COVID-19 inquiry in May, there were outbreaks in three aged care facilities in Sydney. By the time the hearing began in August, a major outbreak in aged care facilities in Melbourne was under way.
It is appropriate to release this special report now because, although no-one knows how long the pandemic will last, aged care residents continue to suffer and, tragically, more may die as a result of COVID-19. There is too much at stake to apportion blame at this time. However, the public needs to know what lessons have been, and can still be, learnt.
Recommendation 1 - Implementation
The Australian Government should report to Parliament by no later than
1 December 2020 on the implementation of these recommendations.
Recommendation 2 – Visitors and quality of life
The Australian Government should immediately fund providers that apply for funding to ensure there are adequate staff available to allow continued visits to people living in residential aged care by their families and friends.
Recommendation 3 – Allied health
The Australian Government should urgently create Medicare Benefits Schedule items to increase the provision of allied health services, including mental health services, to people in aged care during the pandemic. Any barriers, whether real or perceived, to allied health professionals being able to enter residential aged care facilities should be removed unless justified on genuine public health grounds.
Recommendation 4 – An aged care plan and advisory body
The Australian Government should establish a national aged care plan for COVID-19 through the National Cabinet in consultation with the aged care sector.
This plan should:
- establish a national aged care advisory body
- establish protocols between the Australian Government and the States and Territories based on the NSW Protocol but having regard to jurisdictional differences
- maximise the ability for people living in aged care homes to have visitors and to maintain their links with family, friends and the community
- establish a mechanism for consultation with the aged care sector about use of Hospital in the Home programs in residential aged care
- establish protocols on who will decide about transfers to hospital of COVID-19 positive residents, having regard to the protocol proposed by Aged and Community Services Australia
- ensure that significant outbreaks in facilities are investigated by an independent expert to identify lessons that can be learnt. The results of any such investigations should be promptly disseminated to the sector.
Recommendation 5 – Infection control expertise and personal protective equipment
All residential aged care homes should have one or more trained infection control officers as a condition of accreditation. The training requirements for these officers should be set by the aged care advisory body we propose.
The Australian Government should arrange with the States and Territories 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.