Aged Care Minister, Senator Richard Colbeck (pictured above), the Department of Health and the aged care regulator have all faced tough questioning at the Senate’s Select Committee on COVID-19 since it began hearings in April – now the Committee has tabled its first interim report and the Government does not come out looking good.
Chapter 4 of the 242-page report, tabled on Wednesday night, dedicates 14 pages to the Government’s aged care response notes that deaths in aged care facilities account for around 75% of COVID deaths in Australia and concludes:
“The Australian Government failed to adequately prepare the aged care sector for COVID-19, was too slow to respond to issues with outbreaks in residential aged care facilities, and failed to accept full responsibility for the sector despite being the government responsible for funding and regulating aged care in Australia.”
Government failed to learns lessons from NSW outbreaks
The Committee – which was chaired by Labor Senator, Katy Gallagher – found the Department of Health failed to predict the staffing shortages and demand for Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) that resulted from the outbreaks in residential care.
“It failed to learn important lessons from early outbreaks at residential aged care facilities in NSW and was too slow to respond to escalating community transmission in Victoria,” it states.
In particular, the report finds that the Government “did not have adequate [public health]plans in place either before, or during the pandemic” and “failed to properly prepare the aged care and disability sectors for the pandemic”.
The Aged Care Quality and Safety Commission (ACQSC) also comes in for criticism with the report calling out the regulator for not doing enough to keep residents safe.
Senator Colbeck had argued in his evidence that high community transmission was responsible for the aged care outbreaks during Victoria’s second wave.
Federal Government accused of shifting blame to Victoria
But the Committee alleges that the Federal Government is trying to shift blame into the State Government.
“The committee is disappointed that, rather than accept its mistakes in leading the health response and keeping aged care residents safe, the government has repeatedly sought to avoid taking responsibility and shift blame onto the states,” the report states.
The report closes with six recommendations, including:
- That the Government publish all previous and future minutes of the Australian Health Protection Principal Committee (AHPPC)
- That the Government establish an Australian Centre for Disease Control to improve Australia’s pandemic preparedness, operational response capacity and communication across different levels of government.
But there’s no mention of a national aged care response plan.
Given the Royal Commission has already made this recommendation – with the Government issuing its own response that it had a national plan – it would seem the focus is now on preventing future aged care outbreaks.