Stand-off between States over national policy on transferring COVID-19 aged care residents to hospital leaves providers hanging

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The Australian is reporting that the refusal of South Australia and NSW to back away from their respective policies on the transfer of residents in the event of a coronavirus diagnosis is leaving the aged care sector without national guidelines when the pandemic still has to runs its course.

South Australia has already adopted a state-wide policy of sending COVID-positive residents immediately to hospital – a measure that is backed by both the aged care peaks and consumer advocacy groups.

However, NSW is pushing for treating residents with coronavirus under the Hospital in the Home program, with hospital treatment to be the last resort – the approach taken during the recent outbreak at Anglicare’s Newmarch House in Sydney.

Accepting the SA policy could have potential legal ramifications for NSW Health, the paper points out.

Both approaches were discussed at a meeting of the Australian Health Ministers Advisory Council last week, but SA says it will not budge on its policy – leaving the matter unresolved.

The aged care peaks say aged care homes are not hospitals and are not equipped to provide the level of isolation or acute care required in a COVID-19 outbreak.

They want National Cabinet to weigh in if necessary, to put guidelines in place – before another case is identified.

“Providers, State governments and the Commonwealth all should be clear about their role in protecting residents,” Acting Aged Care Guild CEO Nicholas Brown said.

“We accept that providers are ultimately legally responsible for the clients in our care, but with so many layers of bureaucracy giving advice it’s hard to know who to listen to.”

South Australia is the only state to have a clear policy on the issue after early consultation between SA Health, providers and peaks in March saw protocols drafted up.

SA providers tell us they feel reassured knowing the policy is in place.

“It has given us such a safety net to know that the health system is fully prepared and on the same page as aged care providers,” Helping Hand CEO Chris Stewart said.

“We’re really proud of what SA Health, the peaks and providers been able to orchestrate. It just shows what can be achieved in collaboration.”

Will the States being able to come to an agreement? Both sides have reasons not to compromise.

The stand-off also raises the issue: if aged care residents are entitled to the same medical care as other Australians, why can they not be transferred to hospital?

Is it simply that they are too frail – or is there a more deep-rooted cause?