COVID-19 presents particular risks to older people, who are particularly vulnerable to respiratory diseases.¹ In May 2020, the United Nations reported on the ‘devastating toll’ that the spread of COVID-19 in care homes was having on older people’s lives.²
The public health crisis of COVID-19 has disproportionately affected aged care in Australia. It’s a tragedy that aged care residents continue to suffer and, that some more may die as a result of COVID-19.
As it’s not known how long the pandemic will last, a brief special report was prepared by the Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety to address specific COVID-19 issues in advance of their Final Report, which will be delivered on 26 February 2021.
Response to a pandemic in aged care
When the pandemic hit Australia, there wasn’t a COVID-19 plan specifically devoted to aged care rather a national COVID-19 plan that was adapted to the aged care sector. The national plan, the Australian Health Sector Emergency Response Plan for Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19) (Health Sector Plan), was developed in January 2020 and published on 18 February 2020. On 27 February 2020 it was activated by the Prime Minister in anticipation of a pandemic.
Early in 2020, both the Australian Department of Health and the Aged Care Quality and Safety Commission established taskforces dedicated to COVID-19. The role of the Commission’s taskforce was to manage strategic and operational issues in relation to COVID-19, responding ‘as required to issues or needs which arise, quickly and flexibly’.³ This report is part of the work done by this Commission.
Recommendations for immediate action
The report has made it clear that people receiving aged care services, their loved ones, those providing care and the aged care sector itself need immediate support and action.
Within the limits of this special Aged Care COVID-19 inquiry four major areas via six recommendations were identified that can and should be undertaken to support the aged care sector according to the Commission.
The Australian Government should report to Parliament by no later than 1 December 2020 on the implementation of these recommendations.
The Australian Government should fund providers to ensure there are adequate staff available to deal with external visitors so that the Industry Code for Visiting Residential Aged Care Homes during COVID-19 (Visitation Code) can be modified to enable a greater number of more meaningful visits between people receiving care and their loved ones.
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. Any barriers, whether real or perceived, to allied health and mental health professionals being able to enter residential aged care facilities should be removed unless justified on genuine public health grounds.
The Australian Government should publish a national aged care plan for COVID-19 and establish a national aged care advisory body.
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.
Selmar offers accredited Infection Control training for the aged care sector. For further information contact Ellie Shay on firstname.lastname@example.org or 0414 186 254
1 A Clark, M Jit, C Warren-Gash, B Guthrie, H HX Wang, SW Mercer, C Sanderson, M McKee, C Troeger, KI Ong, F Checchi, P Perel, S Joseph, A Banerjee, H Gibbs, CMMID nCov working group and RM Eggo, Global, regional, and national estimates of the population at increased risk of severe COVID-19 due to underlying health conditions in 2020: a modelling study, 2020, https://cmmid.github.io/topics/covid19/Global_risk_factors.html and https://www.thelancet. com/journals/langlo/article/PIIS2214-109X(20)30264-3/fulltext, viewed 11 September 2020.
2 United Nations, Policy Brief: The Impact of COVID-19 on older persons, May 2020, p 3, https://unsdg.un.org/sites/ default/files/2020-05/Policy-Brief-The-Impact-of-COVID-19-on-Older-Persons.pdf, viewed 11 September 2020.
3 Exhibit 18-21, Sydney Hearing 2, Statement of Janet Anderson, WIT.0772.0001.0001 at 0007 .