Government welcomes Aged Care Royal Commission’s COVID-19 report recommendations

On this 30th anniversary of the International Day of Older Persons, the Australian Government welcomed the COVID-19 report from the Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety, tabled in the Australian Parliament today.

 

The Government has accepted all six recommendations in the report and has made progress on four of them.

 

The Government will allocate $40.6 million in an initial response to the Royal Commission’s report and recommendations.

 

The full report “Aged Care and COVID-19: a special report” is available at https://agedcare.royalcommission.gov.au/publications/aged-care-and-covid-19-special-report

 

Recommendation 1 - Implementation

The Australian Government should report to Parliament by no later than 1 December 2020 on the implementation of these recommendations.

 

The Government accepts the recommendation. It will report to Parliament by no later than 1 December 2020 on the implementation of the Royal Commission’s recommendations.

 

Recommendation 2 - Visitors and quality of life

The Australian Government should immediately fund providers that apply for funding to ensure there are adequate staff available to allow continued visits to people living in residential aged care by their families and friends.

 

The Government accepts the recommendation. The Government has announced two packages to provide additional funding for staffing which supports visitations to aged care facilities by families and friends of residents.

 

In August, the Government committed an additional $245 million to support providers with COVID-19 related costs, including supporting communication with families and managing visitation arrangements, building on the first payment of the COVID supplement of $205 million announced in May.

 

The Government is also providing $12.5 million to support residents and their families with enhanced advocacy services and increased availability of grief and trauma services associated with a COVID-19 outbreak.

 

In addition, the Government will bring forward the introduction of the Serious Incident Response Scheme (SIRS) and invest an additional $29.8 million in the SIRS for residential aged care.

 

Legislation to support SIRS will be introduced to parliament in the spring sitting for the scheme to commence in early 2021.

 

As part of the SIRS, residential aged care providers will be required to manage all incidents, with a focus on the safety and wellbeing of consumers and reducing preventable incidents from reoccurring.

 

Reporting under the SIRS will include a broader range of incidents, including neglect, psychological and emotional abuse and inappropriate use of physical or chemical restraint.

 

The SIRS will also lift the current exemption on the reporting of resident-on resident incidents, where the perpetrator has an assessed cognitive impairment.

 

As the Royal Commission Interim Report states: “Informal carers, often family members who supplement the care provided in aged care homes, also play a critical role as the ‘eyes and ears’ – monitoring the quality of care their loved ones receive.”

 

The SIRS will provide an additional level of assurance when facilities, due to COVID-19, will still need to place a level of restrictions on visitations.

 

Recommendation 3 - Allied health

The Australian Government should urgently create Medicare Benefits Schedule items to increase the provision of allied health services, including mental health services, to people in aged care during the pandemic. Any barriers, whether real or perceived, to allied health professionals being able to enter residential aged care facilities should be removed unless justified on genuine public health grounds.

 

The Government accepts the recommendation. While the Government has introduced a range of measures to support the mental health of residents of aged care facilities, it will continue to implement further measures.

 

The Government will provide additional funding to support increased access by residents to allied health services during the pandemic and will work with the sector to design and implement these measures.

 

Recommendation 4 – An aged care plan and advisory body

The Australian Government should establish a national aged care plan for COVID-19 through the National Cabinet in consultation with the aged care sector.

This plan should:

  • establish a national aged care advisory body
  • establish protocols between the Australian Government and the States and Territories based on the NSW Protocol but having regard to jurisdictional differences
  • maximise the ability for people living in aged care homes to have visitors and to maintain their links with family, friends and the community
  • establish a mechanism for consultation with the aged care sector about use of Hospital in the Home programs in residential aged care
  • establish protocols on who will decide about transfers to hospital of COVID-19 positive residents, having regard to the protocol proposed by Aged and Community Services Australia
  • ensure that significant outbreaks in facilities are investigated by an independent expert to identify lessons that can be learnt. The results of any such investigations should be promptly disseminated to the sector.

 

The Government accepts the recommendation. The Government has a specific national plan for aged care – the CDNA Guidelines for the Management of Outbreaks in Residential Care, which has been updated on two occasions, and which augments the Australian Health Sector Emergency Response Plan for Novel Coronavirus (COVID 19).

 

The national plan for aged care will continue to be updated incorporating the latest available information and released soon as Stage 7 of the National COVID-19 Aged Care Plan for the consideration by National Cabinet.

 

The Aged Care Advisory Group, established on 21 August 2020 under the Australian Health Protection Principal Committee (AHPPC), will be made permanent.

 

The other elements of this recommendation have already been undertaken or are in progress and will also be put to National Cabinet for consideration.

 

Recommendation 5 – Infection control expertise and personal protective equipment

All residential aged care homes should have one or more trained infection control officers as a condition of accreditation. The training requirements for these officers should be set by the aged care advisory body we propose.

 

The Government accepts the recommendation. Funding totalling $245 million will be paid to providers from October 2020 to support COVID-19 efforts.

 

It will mandate that aged care providers have trained infection control officers as detailed in this recommendation.

 

In addition, the Government today announces it will invest a further $10.8 million to enhance the skills and leadership qualities of aged care nurses to ensure older Australians receive the best care possible. The investment will expand the Australian College of Nursing scholarship program, establish an Aged Care Transition to Practice Program, and create a skills development program for nurses and personal care workers in aged care.

 

Recommendation 6

The Australian Government should arrange with the States and Territories to deploy accredited infection prevention and control experts into residential aged care homes to provide training, assist with the preparation of outbreak management plans and assist with outbreaks.

 

The Government accepts the recommendation. The Government has been working with state and territory governments to implement a decision of National Cabinet of 21 August to implement additional face-to-face infection control training and establish joint approaches to the management of outbreaks.

 

1 October 2020.