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Government responds to COVID-19 Special Report recommendations

As the deadline approached for a response to the Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety's Special Report into aged care and COVID-19, the Government released its response last night, accepting all recommendations.

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The Government was required to respond to the Special Report by 1 December, 2020. [Source: iStock]

The response meets the deadline of 1 December as was stipulated by the Commissioners when they released Aged care and COVID-19: A special report on the 1 October, 2020. 

They stated that a response to the coronavirus was too important to wait for the Final Report to be handed to the Government in late February and stipulated that the Federal Government had to respond and implement all six recommendations.

The Commission six recommendations were:

  • The Government needs to report to Parliament by 1 December 2020 on the implementation of the recommendations.

  • Providers should be immediately funded by the Government to ensure adequate staffing is available to allow continued visitation hours for people in aged care by their families and friends.

  • The Government needs to create Medicare Benefits Schedule (MBS) items which will allow for the increase of allied health services being available to people in aged care. Allied health professionals must be able to enter aged care facilities.

  • A national aged care plan for COVID-19 needs to be established, including the creation of national aged care advisory body, New South Wales protocols to be implemented between the Australian Government and the States and Territories, a consultation process with the aged care sector about using the Hospital in the Home programs in aged care, establish protocols for who decides whether a COVID-19 positive resident is transferred to hospital, and to ensure outbreaks in facilities are investigated by an independent expert as to find lessons to be learnt which should be provided to others in the sector. 

  • Residential aged care homes should home one or more staff trained as infection control officers, which should be a condition of accreditation.

  • Accredited infection prevention and control experts should be sent to aged care homes to provide training, assist with outbreak management plans and preparation and assist with outbreaks.

The Federal Government has accepted all proposed recommendations put to them by the Royal Commission. Along with the recommendations, Government announced a further $132.2 million to fund the reform changes.

Minister for Aged Care and Senior Australians, Richard Colbeck, says the Government have gone above and beyond the recommendations from the Royal Commission.

"The Australian Government has been continuously building and adapting the response to COVID-19 in aged care since January 2020, with the Aged Care Sector and with State and Territory Governments and health authorities, incorporating lessons learned from Australia and other countries," says Minister Colbeck.

"The Government will continue to work closely with aged care providers and all states and territories to learn, adapt and ensure the ongoing safety and care of senior Australians.

"The funding package of $132.2 million announced on Monday, includes new measures to support access to mental and allied health services through the Medical Benefits Schedule (MBS) for aged care.

"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."

However, Shadow Minister for Aged Care, Julie Collins, says that while the Government has accepted all of the recommendations, they haven't implemented all of the changes so far.

"685 older Australians have tragically died from COVID-19 in aged care homes and yet the Morrison Government, by its own admission today, still hasn’t fully implemented the urgent recommendations from the Royal Commission to stop more deaths. Completely unacceptable," says Minister Collins.

The Government response states they have delivered on:

  • Responding by 1 December 2020 by tabling their report after 6 pm on 30 November, 2020

  • Delivered $450 million through two payments to residential aged care providers to support them in combating COVID-19 and updating national guidelines to allow visitation in aged care

  • Provided funding for training of staff into infection control officers. The Government also mandated that all aged care facilities need to appoint an Infection, Prevention Control (IPC) lead by 1 December, 2020

The Government has accepted but is still implementing these recommendations:

  • Creating two new MBS items at a cost of $47.6 million for mental health and allied health services for aged care residents, which will commence from 10 December 2020.

  • An updated National COVID-19 Aged Care Plan (7th edition) was endorsed at the National Cabinet on 13 November, 2020. They have also established all of the requirements under this recommendation, however, two areas are still ongoing, including establishing protocols like NSW Protocol across Government and States and Territories, and making sure aged care facilities have an independent expert investigate outbreaks in facilities.

  • The Government is arranging for accredited infection prevention and control experts to train aged care homes and assist with outbreak management plans and with outbreaks.

The Health Services Union (HSU) points out that the announcement that the Government is spending more money into COVID-related aged care support is also happening as they oppose the Aged Care Legislation Amendment (Financial Transparency) Bill 2020.

National Secretary of HSU, Lloyd Williams, says, "The urgent recommendations should have been fully implemented by the Federal Government by now, but they continue with their delays and inaction in aged care.

"It is clear this Government has no plan for aged care other than to continue kicking the can down the road.

"HSU aged care members around the country are still struggling to obtain basic [Personal Protective Equipment], they still don’t have safe staff levels at work and they still don’t know where the money in aged care goes."

For-profit peak body, The Aged Care Guild, has welcomed the response from Government to the COVID-19 Special Report, but adds that it still doesn't address some of the pressing issues in the Royal Commission's Counsel Assisting's Proposed Recommendations released in late October.

You can read the Government report response on the Australian Government Health website or view the Royal Commission's Special report on its website.

Minister for Aged Care and Senior Australians, Richard Colbeck, was contacted for comment.

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