The report states COVID-19 has been the greatest challenge the Australian aged care sector has ever faced, and is demanding that the Australian Government updates the Australian Parliament no later than 1 December 2020 about the implementation progress of these recommendations.
There are four key areas identified as needing immediate action in the aged care sector, including funding providers for adequate staffing levels, making sure residents have access to increased allied health and mental health services, a published national aged care plan for COVID-19 and establishment of a national aged care advisory body, and aged care providers requiring accredited infection control officers.
The Commission says no one could have predicted a pandemic and its impact on the aged care sector, and, of course, the Royal Commission was not established in 2018 with COVID-19 as a focus.
As such, Commissioners believe it is important that this special report is released ahead of the Final Report, which is to be delivered by 26 February 2021.
The six recommendations from the special report are:
Recommendation 1 - Implementation
The Government should report to Parliament by 1 December 2020 at the latest about the implementation of these recommendations
Recommendation 2 - Visitors and quality of life
The Australian Government needs to fund providers so they can ensure there is adequate staff available, which will enable staff to handle more meaningful visits for residents
Recommendation 3 - Allied health
The Australian Government should create Medicare Benefits Schedule items that increase allied health and mental health services for people in aged care homes during the pandemic that can prevent physical and mental health deterioration
Recommendation 4 - An aged care plan and advisory body
There should be a national aged care plan for COVID-19 published that includes:
The establishment of a national aged care advisory body
Implemented protocols between Federal Government, States and Territories based on the New South Wales (NSW) protocols
Maximise the ability for residents in nursing homes to have visitors and remain linked to family, friends and community
A consultation mechanism with the sector around the use of Hospital in the Home programs in aged care
Establish protocols on who will decide on hospital transfers for COVID-19 positive residents while taking into account proposed protocols from Aged and Community Services Australia (ACSA)
Ensure that significant COVID-19 outbreaks in nursing homes are investigated by an independent expert as to identify key lessons to be learnt and have these findings sent to all in the sector
Recommendation 5 - Infection control expertise and personal protective equipment
Providers should be required to appoint infection control officers and arrange for the deployment of accredited infection prevention and control experts in nursing homes
Recommendation 6 - Infection control training
Federal Government should arrange for the deployment of accredited infection prevention and control experts into Australian nursing homes to provide training, assist with the preparation of an outbreak management plan and assist with outbreaks
The Federal Government accepted all of these recommendations and welcomed the COVID-19 report from the Commission.
Minister for Aged Care and Senior Australians, Richard Colbeck, says the Government has already made progress on four of the recommendations and they will invest $40.6 million in response to the report and recommendations from the Royal Commission.
He adds that the Commission's recommendations are built on the Government's own COVID-19 measures.
Industry association, the Aged Care Guild, has supported the recommendations in the special report from the Royal Commission.
The Guild is glad that the COVID-19 response is contemporary and adaptive to lessons learnt from the experiences to date.
Acting Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of the Aged Care Guild, Nicholas Brown, says with more than one million deaths worldwide to date, it is clear that COVID-19 is an insidious enemy unlike the world has seen in over 100 years.
"The Royal Commission’s report acknowledges Australia has responded relatively well when compared globally. This does not diminish the devastating impact the virus has had in our country. Every death has been one too many and is a tragedy," says Mr Brown.
"Throughout this worldwide pandemic, there will be examples of care in some aged care homes that do not meet expectations. These must be balanced against the overwhelming majority of residents and employees who have been kept safe and secure.
"The devastating impacts of the virus on senior Australians living in aged care homes is a direct reflection of widespread transmission in surrounding communities; it is not an issue isolated to aged care. The entire health care system, of which aged care is part of, has been overrun.
"While the Australian response to COVID-19 has not always been perfect, we recognise and acknowledge that most are doing the best they can responding to this worldwide pandemic.
"The aged care sector is committed to the necessary reform, but we cannot do it alone. Long-term change requires long-term commitment."
Dementia Australia, peak body for people living with dementia, has also welcomed the special report from the Royal Commission as people living with dementia have been deeply affected both physically and mentally by COVID-19.
CEO of Dementia Australia, Maree McCabe, says, "Recent dementia prevalence data suggests that over two thirds of all people living in residential aged care have moderate to severe cognitive impairment.
"Dementia Australia has been consistently calling for health and aged care providers to work together to maintain visits and engagement with people living with dementia during this unprecedented time of enforced and extended periods of isolation.
"People living with dementia are some of the most vulnerable people in our community during this pandemic. If engagement is reduced for people with dementia, the loss of cognitive function can escalate. Over time these are losses that most people will not regain."
She adds that for people in aged care, family involvement in their care plan and the provision of allied and mental health services is really crucial when providing quality aged care.
Research from Dementia Australia found that a lack of access to services and social interaction has contributed to the rate of cognitive decline in older people.
Commissioners Tony Pagone QC and Lynelle Briggs AO handed the special report on the COVID-19 pandemic in aged care to the Governor-General David Hurley AC DSC on 1 October.
This report follows the COVID-19 focussed Commission hearings held in Sydney from 10 - 13 August, 2020.
To view the full COVID-19 special report from the Royal Commission, visit their website.