This week’s Senate Estimates hearings continue to deliver information that supports the Counsel Assisting’s argument that the Government was unprepared for the impact that COVID would have on the aged care sector.
Data provided to the Committee meetings shows that 2,865 aged care providers asked for Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) from the National Medical Stockpile (NMS), but only 1,324 of those requests were approved.
In Victoria in July and August – the peak of the pandemic – 1,180 homes made requests for PPE from the NMS with 364 knocked back.
In March – as cases were beginning to escalate – the Government rejected 696 of the 910 requests made for PPE by providers.
The Department of Health evidence did show that all of the homes that had COVID outbreaks received PPE from the NMS when it was requested.
Department of Health says Stockpile not main source of PPE
However, a Department of Health spokesperson told the Sydney Morning Herald the NMS was not the primary source of PPE, and the Department “encourages all entities and people seeking access to the NMS to continue to purchase PPE through commercial means where possible”.
“The highest priority of the government is to ensure access to masks and other PPE for first responders,” they said.
“Access to PPE from the NMS is based on an established need in line with clinical evidence and where access to commercial suppliers is unavailable.”
Some providers were turned down because they wanted equipment the NMS was not distributing, they withdrew their request as their needs changed, or services were assessed as not meeting the criteria, they added.
The NMS has provided aged care homes with approximately 18 million masks, five million gowns, 11 million gloves, four million goggles and face shields, and 90,000 bottles of hand sanitiser.
Royal Commission describes PPE access in aged care as “deplorable”
However, we spoke to many providers during the height of the pandemic who said they had been unable to or struggled to obtain PPE – in one case early on, a provider had their delivery requisitioned by the NMS – suggesting more assistance was needed.
The Royal Commission also described the access to PPE in aged care as “deplorable” in its recent special report.
“Insufficient supplies of PPE and infection control training for the aged care workforce were the subject of evidence in the form of union surveys and accounts,” they wrote. “We heard of workers being told they could only use one glove rather than two, and a guideline at a residential aged care facility that only permitted two masks per shift. This is deplorable.”
In response, the Federal Government has promised it would take up the Commissioners’ recommendations for all aged care homes to have one or more trained infection control officers as a condition of accreditation and the deployment of accredited infection prevention and control experts into homes to provide training and assist with outbreaks – but these do not include a requirement to provide PPE.
There have now been 216 COVID-19 outbreaks in Australian aged care homes, mostly in Victoria – or 8% of facilities – with 685 COVID deaths recorded among aged care residents.