The Australian Nursing and Midwifery Federation (ANMF) is calling on the Morrison government to urgently implement its five-point action plan to protect elderly Australians living in nursing homes from further COVID-19 outbreaks.
After giving evidence to the aged care royal commission via video link on Wednesday, ANMF federal secretary Annie Butler said the unfolding tragedy in Victoria clearly demonstrates a lack of leadership from the government and a failure to ensure preparedness across the sector to deal with COVID-19.
As deaths related to aged care outbreaks continue to grow in Victoria, an alarming report on the ABC detailed information from an aged care nurse who contracted COVID-19 explaining that staff were not given proper training in infection control and how to use personal protective equipment (PPE).
“As there is no vaccine or definitive treatment for COVID-19 yet, it’s critically important that the sector’s focus is on preparedness, which means prevention and control, rather than just focusing on how to respond once an outbreak has occurred,” Ms Butler said.
“While the sector continues to require wholescale and widespread reform to fix the crisis that existed before the pandemic, there are several key actions the government can implement immediately to ensure our elderly are better protected.”
The ANMF recommendations include: additional staffing with the right skills, a sufficient supply of PPE with the right training, paid pandemic leave, transparency for government funding and a cessation of further cuts to nursing and care.
“Providers must have sufficient numbers of qualified nurses and carers with the right mix of skills, so they are suitably prepared to fight the outbreak with a skilled surge workforce,” Ms Butler said. “And these staff must be equipped with sufficient supplies of PPE and genuine infection prevention and control education and training, which must include time to practise those skills under the guidance and supervision of an infection control expert.
“Since the start of the pandemic, the ANMF has written and been in contact with the aged care minister Richard Colbeck on at least eight occasions, offering our help and advice on the mounting issues plaguing the aged sector, particularly around inadequate staffing and shortages of PPE and other workforce support measures.
“Unfortunately, the government has not responded and has not implemented actions which may have provided better protections for elderly Australians.
“The untold grief and trauma that too many have already had to experience cannot be undone, but the government has the power, and the responsibility, to take our advice and act immediately on our action plan.”
According to the latest figures, one in four Melbourne nursing homes has a coronavirus outbreak and across Australia nursing home deaths account for 70 per cent of Australia’s COVID-19 death toll, which is the highest anywhere in the world.
When asked about these figures at the COVID-19 Senate hearing on Friday, Department of Health secretary Brendan Murphy said that was an “extraordinary” interpretation.
“Every death is an absolute tragedy … but to interpret a percentage of an extremely low death rate as an example of poor aged care management is simply not defensible,” Prof. Murphy said.
“We find that a very misleading conclusion and we reject that it represents a pejorative assessment of our aged care.
“Clearly more can always be done,” he said.
“We have a meeting every morning with the prime minister to discuss the Victorian aged care outbreaks –it is a serious concern for government and it is a tragic situation which we had hoped would not occur.”
At the royal commission into aged care on Thursday, Peter Rozen QC accused the federal government of acting with “self-congratulation” and “hubris” by not learning lessons and not preparing Victoria for the devastating outbreak in aged care.
Do you think the federal government dropped the ball on protecting the aged care sector from a COVID-19 outbreak? Are they doing enough now to try and stop the outbreak from spreading?
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