Tuesday, 1 September 2020
Questions without Notice
COVID-19: Aged Care
[by video link] My question is to the Minister for Aged Care and Senior Australians, Senator Colbeck. Does the minister agree with the counsel assisting the aged care royal commission, Mr Peter Rozen QC, that the stories of large-scale death in aged-care homes in the Northern Hemisphere in February and March meant:
The Australian aged care sector and the government agencies that fund and regulate it were on notice about the particular vulnerability of the elderly residents in our own care homes.
The government and the health officers, the CMOs and CHOs, from around the country were all very well aware that senior Australians were extremely vulnerable to this terrible virus, COVID-19. We all very much knew that it could have a devastating impact. We all knew that. That's why in our plan to deal with COVID-19 in this country, including in aged care, the national COVID-19 healthcare plan, aged care was a significant component. That's why the AHPPC put that document together, to support the government's response to COVID-19 across the country, including in aged care, supported by the guidelines provided by the CDNA to the aged-care sector. It was all part of our plan to deal with COVID-19 across the country.
So from the beginning of the year, from January, we started working closely with the aged-care sector, providing advice on how providers would improve their infection control plans, how they should upgrade their procedures with respect to the utilisation of PPE and how they should upgrade the plans within their facilities so they could be prepared in the circumstance of an outbreak.
The Aged Care Quality and Safety Commission also started working with providers to test their preparedness. So, yes, we were well aware of the vulnerabilities of the aged-care sector and of those who reside within it, very well aware. That's why our plan, right from the outset, contemplated a number of actions, based on the AHPPC advice through the COVID-19 health management plan that was issued during February.
[by video link] Given the warnings of Dorothy Henderson Lodge in March and Newmarch House in April, why did the minister still wait until June to advise aged-care providers that 80 to 100 per cent of their workforce might need to isolate in a major outbreak?
The advice that an aged-care provider might expect to have to replace its own staff was contained in the early advice from the CDNA back in March this year, which contemplated that an aged-care provider might—
Opposition senators interjecting—
be required to replace 30 to 40 per cent of its workforce should they be required to isolate. What we saw as the pandemic proceeded was the circumstance at Newmarch, where that number grew significantly. In fact, even the report into Newmarch that we received said that that level of staff isolation was not contemplated—couldn't be. (Time expired)
[by video link] This minister was warned of the need to bolster the aged-care workforce in the 2018 aged-care workforce strategy, the October 2019 aged-care royal commission interim report, entitled Neglect,and in the early aged-care outbreaks. Again and again, the minister ignored the warnings and failed to act. How can Australians in aged care and their families possibly have confidence in this minister?
I completely reject the premise of the question. We acted very quickly to bolster the aged-care workforce through the surge capacity we announced on 11 March this year. So we acted very quickly. Before Dorothy Henderson Lodge was over, we acted extremely quickly because we saw what had happened. We had received the advice of the AHPPC, so we put in place over $100 million in capacity for surge workforce early in March. So I completely reject the premise of the question. We acted quickly to make sure that resources were available to residential aged care in this country so that any facility that was impacted had the capacity to be supported by the government in the form that it needed to continue to provide quality care.
My question is to the Minister for Aged Care and Senior Australians, Senator Colbeck. How many residents of aged-care facilities funded and regulated by the Morrison government have passed away from COVID-19? How many active cases of COVID-19 are there currently in Australia's aged-care system?
Last Thursday, the minister told the Senate he first realised he hadn't got it right. He said:
When the circumstances at St Basil's occurred in the way that they did, it was clearly obvious to me that we didn't get it right.
Given there have now been more than 400 deaths in aged care from COVID-19 since this minister first realised he hadn't got it right, how many more deaths will occur on this minister's watch before he finally gets it right?
Honourable senators interjecting—
She makes a very, very unfortunate and, I think, dishonest correlation between the circumstances at St Basil's—the government has acknowledged that, with 24 hours notice, we didn't have in place the staffing requirements to replace the entire staff of that facility, and there were some things that occurred there that we would have wished had not occurred.
The Labor Party seem to exist in this little local bubble where they don't understand that there is a global pandemic of COVID-19 occurring. There is significant community transmission of COVID-19 in Victoria. (Time expired)