Senior Counsel Assisting Peter Rozen QC (pictured above) has concluded at the end of the Royal Commission’s COVID-19 hearings that the Government “which has sole responsibility for aged care,” had been put on notice of the danger the virus posed to the sector – but still did not develop a COVID response plan specifically for aged care.
“Tragically not all that could be done was done. The sector was not properly prepared. The lessons of those two outbreaks [Dorothy Henderson Lodge and Newmarch House] were not properly conveyed to the sector and as a result the sector was not properly prepared in June 2020 when we witnessed high levels of community transmission of the virus in Melbourne. Based on the evidence you have heard the sector is not properly prepared now.”
He called the Department of Health’s COVID response plan “reacting, not planning”.
Noting that the Commonwealth and NSW government had developed a protocol on roles and responsibilities of Governments and providers in response to the Newmarch House outbreak which was released in June, Mr Rozen said:
“It is unacceptable that such arrangements were not in place in February. It’s unforgiveable that they are not in place in August. The virus is not a fair fighter. It doesn’t wait until the bell rings.”
Mr Rozen also went after the regulator, arguing that the Aged Care Quality and Safety Commission (ACQSC) failed to properly audit all aged care homes on infection control and identify monitoring arrangements to replace unannounced visits when they were temporarily put on hold.
“It was incumbent on the regulator to have strategies in place to fill that gap,” he said.
The regulator should also have had a system in place to pass on any information picked up in its routine monitoring work – like a COVID outbreak.
“Ms Anderson was unable to explain to you why such information was not conveyed when it came to the attention of one of her employees in a particular case in Melbourne in July. She informed you that she has now put in place an arrangement to ensure that happens routinely. Yet again, that is reacting, not planning.”
Guidance on masks was added to the list of reactive actions:
“This level of confusion by senior officers in the Department of Health is far from reassuring, it appears to be more by press release. This is not the hallmark of a considered approach but a consideration on the run reacting to circumstances.”
He closed his review of the aged care regulator and Government with:
“This represents 70 per cent of all the country’s COVID-19 deaths. On this measure, we are one of the worst performing countries in the world. Our elderly citizens and their families deserve better.”