Monday, 24 August 2020
Questions without Notice
COVID-19: Aged Care
My question is to the Minister for Health. Will the minister update the House on how the Morrison government is working to contain the COVID-19 outbreak in Victorian aged-care facilities, particularly through the Victorian Aged Care Response Centre?
I want to thank the member for Monash. He, like all members of this House, is focused on the deep needs and the tragedies that Victorians have faced. Before coming to this chamber today, I spoke with the Victorian Aged Care Response Centre and received information from my department. There are 126 facilities in Victoria that currently have some form of positive case, and 59 of them have staff-only cases. There are no facilities—
Mr Albanese interjecting—
To the Leader of the Opposition, you exhibited some interest in this topic earlier today. There are no facilities with a positive case anywhere else in Australia outside of Victoria.
An opposition member interjecting—
Would you like to withdraw that?
All right. If they're not interested, I'll keep going. They can choose or not choose to listen on the topic of the aged-care response in Victoria. Critically, what we set out in January was that, in order to save and protect lives, we had to prevent community transmission. We knew that, from around the world, this is a disease that can affect the elderly. Although any Australian and any person around the world can be subject to it, it's the elderly, in particular, who we have seen to be the most susceptible. Wherever there is community transmission, there has been, in every place, a significant impact on our elderly. And that was why we closed the borders on 1 February. That's why we worked through the six stages of our national plan for the protection of the elderly against COVID, beginning with the national plan in January, which the Prime Minister set out, and the CDNA aged-care plan on 13 March, and all of the other phases.
Most significantly, as part of the mass community outbreak in Victoria, we set up the Victorian Aged Care Response Centre as a joint partnership with the Victorian government. That, in particular, has seen over 448 residents transferred from aged-care homes to public and private hospitals. Under the plan, a public hospitals agreement was established back in March, a private hospitals agreement was established back in March and there was $100 million for an aged-care surge workforce. In addition to that, as part of that surge workforce plan, 17,000 shifts were filled by recruitment and 2,300 shifts were filled by Healthcare Australia. By AUSMAT, 69 residential aged-care facilities were visited. Defence had 40 clinicians, 34 officers embedded and 100 officers deployed as part of the field. We've seen the Aged Care Quality and Safety Commission visit 83 centres. We've seen, most significantly, 13 hot facilities reduced to three, as of this morning's briefing with the Prime Minister. So, yes, there has been tragedy and there's more work to do, but what these people have done is work together to potentially save thousands of lives in a crisis which has ravaged one state but where the rest of the nation has been protected.
My question is to the Prime Minister. Why did the Prime Minister say, in July, that a complete withdrawal of an aged-care workforce could not be anticipated or foreshadowed, when that's precisely what happened at the Dorothy Henderson Lodge in March and Newmarch House in April?
I thank the member for her question. The context of the comment is what the questioner has failed to draw attention to. As the Acting Chief Medical Officer pointed out in our joint press conference last Friday when he was asked the same question, what we were referring to at that time was the immediate withdrawal of that workforce. That is what has occurred at the facilities that you have referred to in Victoria. This was complete in a matter of hours when that workforce was withdrawn, and that is the issue that presented the most critical challenge.
It actually is the case that prior to that event, of course, workforce planning had been done for places like St Basil's and other critical facilities that were severely impacted, and with no notice, effectively, of withdrawing that workforce those plans were swung into action and as many aged-care workers were put into that facility as was humanly possible. In other facilities, we were arranging ADF people to go into facilities at about 11 o'clock at night. What was learnt out of the Newmarch process, as well as Dorothy Henderson Lodge, was the need to ensure that, when facilities were dealt with in this way, there wasn't a complete withdrawal of the workforce. That is why, following the incidents that have occurred at St Basil's and other places, we were able to get an agreement out of the Victorian government to ensure that that process of complete and immediate withdrawal was not repeated, as it was a key contributing factor to what occurred in that facility. That is an example of how the Aged Care Response Centre has been working each and every day to deal with problems and issues as they have arisen in what has been an extraordinary set of circumstances in Victorian aged care.
As the Minister for Health just reminded the House, in every country where there has been extensive community transmission of the virus, it has gone and had devastating effects in aged-care facilities. In Australia, 97 per cent of facilities in this country, and just over 90 per cent in Victoria, have had no cases of COVID. That, compared to the international experience, is a testament to the great work that is being done by those officials and those working on the ground to prevent the impacts of this virus when it moves through the community—so many aged-care workers and, indeed, health workers in Victoria more broadly, as I was being briefed on only this morning. When there is community transmission, it affects all workforces, and that includes the health workforces. That is impacting hospitals. There has been an outbreak in the Frankston Hospital, and we're dealing with the transfer of residents who had been transferred to that hospital. So we will continue to deal with the issues as they arise. We will work together with the Victorian government to achieve the best results for residents who are in their care.