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Royal Commission will cover COVID-19 response and system failures

Royal Commissioner, Tony Pagone QC, has highlighted that the Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety will be covering the impact of COVID-19 but wants to rein in public expectations around what will actually be investigated during the hearings.

The upcoming hearings will not have a focus on the Victorian response to the coronavirus and will be examining the system failures and sector readiness as a whole. [Source: iStock]
The upcoming hearings will not have a focus on the Victorian response to the coronavirus and will be examining the system failures and sector readiness as a whole. [Source: iStock]

The Commission hearings from 10 to 13 August will be investigating the COVID-19 response by the aged care sector and how effective those responses were.

However, these hearings will not have a focus on the Victorian response to the coronavirus and will be examining the system failures and sector readiness as a whole.

Commissioner Pagone says he wanted to correct statements from the public that have arisen over the last few days.

"The impact of COVID-19 on Australia’s aged care sector is a national tragedy. It is a human tragedy. At the moment, that tragedy is unfolding daily," says Commissioner Pagone.

"It is important for the public to understand that this Royal Commission is not able, and is not intending, to conduct a full inquiry into that impact. We simply do not have the resources or time to conduct an inquiry that would do justice to the issues which have arisen so far and continue to change and develop. The issues associated with the impacts of COVID-19 in aged care warrant an inquiry of their own. 

"A telling illustration of the human tragedy and the changing circumstances is the situation in Victoria. At the beginning of July there had been no COVID-19 related deaths associated with residential aged care in Victoria. There were two active cases and six recoveries. By 29 July 2020, there were 440 active cases and 47 deaths. Only three residents have recovered. The first death did not occur until 11 July 2020.

"Much has changed since the announcement on 14 May that the Royal Commission would inquire into certain issues arising from the responses of the sector and the Government to COVID-19 with a focus on lessons learnt from the COVID-19 response."

The Commission will be examining the preparedness for infection control and disease outbreaks in aged care, and if the response to COVID-19 appropriately handled the needs of all individuals who were impacted by the pandemic.

Commissioner Pagone admitted that their investigations may find that they need to do further inquiry into COVID-19 and the aged care sector, however, any further examination would require more time and resources that would not be possible with their new deadline date, of 26 February, 2021, and that Government would need to come to the conclusion of whether there should be further investigation.

The upcoming hearings on 10 August will be covering:

  • Roles and responsibilities of State, Territory and Federal Governments in responding to aged care crises like the pandemic

  • What improvements need to be made to prepare the aged care sector for future pandemics or other emergencies that impact the industry

  • Balancing risks of infections or pandemics against the health and wellbeing of older people receiving aged care services

  • Examining what measures health and aged care providers put in place to respond to COVID-19

  • How the different measures and strategies impacted older Australians in receiving services, including to their families and their carers

  • What issues the aged care sector faced in management, workforce and accessing personal protective equipment (PPE)

While the Commission will be learning from COVID-19 affected nursing homes and what support could have benefited those facilities, the Commissioners want to reiterate to the public that the intention of the hearings is not to attribute blame to any organisation or individual.

These hearings will be available for live video streaming on their website as the public and media will not be able to attend in person because of COVID-19.

For more information about the coronavirus, visit the Aged Care Guide COVID-19 update page.

Do you have any questions about the coronavirus that you want answered? Tell us in the comments below or email journalist@dps.com.au.

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