Royal Commission Chair warns against “unintended consequences” of restrictions on aged care visits – calls on providers to use staff to provide ‘touch’

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The Chair of the Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety, the Hon Gaetano Pagone QC (pictured above), has asked the Government and providers to be “vigilant” in ensuring elderly Australians’ quality of life is supported during the coronavirus pandemic – even directing providers to deploy staff to ensure these needs are met.

You can read the full statement here.

This is the first time to our knowledge that a Royal Commissioner has told the sector that is the subject of their inquiry how they should direct their resources.

Commissioner Pagone refers the fact that many providers have blocked ‘non-essential’ visitors to their homes – essentially cutting off residents from family and friends.

“We understand the importance of these measures and support them having been undertaken,” he said. “They are designed to help all, including those for whom the impact may be harsh.”

“We must all bear in mind, however, the vulnerability of this part of the community to be protected and that a consequence of the measures taken to protect them may be causing them harm. There is, therefore, a need that the measures put in place to protect frail older people also deal with the negative aspects of the measures designed to protect them.”

Noting that many families provide extra help with care such as feeding and toileting, the Commissioner says this may require “urgent measures” to deploy “suitably qualified” staff to identify the new and changing needs of residents and clients caused by the responses to COVID-19.

“It may also need specifically targeted redeployment of qualified personnel to supplement the care, support and wellbeing measures for our vulnerable frail community,” he said, adding this would include the use of technology to provide contact with families – and ‘touch’.

“It may also require creative measures to supplement the personal human contact that may be restricted or removed during these times: it may require, for example, providing access to electronic devices to enable more constant contact through video platforms where that is feasible and meaningful.”

The reality is however that most providers are struggling to retain and recruit staff – let alone provide ‘touch’.

There is also the risk of death for other residents whose families may not share the Commissioner’s views, not to mention staff. How realistic are his directions?