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Pandemic reveals aged care system failures: Royal Commission

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Coronavirus has starkly exposed flaws in Australia’s aged care system including inadequate staff training and a lack of pandemic planning, a royal commission has heard.

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In an opening statement on Monday, counsel assisting the commission Peter Rozen QC described the global pandemic as the greatest challenge facing the sector.

“It is hardly surprising that the aged care sector has struggled to respond to COVID-19,” he said.

Rozen said evidence would reveal neither the Commonwealth Department of Health nor the aged care regulator developed a COVID-19 sector-specific plan.

This was despite federal Health Minister Greg Hunt saying in late July aged care was “immensely prepared”, he added.

The commission received 364 submissions since April, which refer to inadequate staff infection control training and lack of access to personal protective equipment (PPE), Rozen said.

Confusion about virus guidelines was another problem, as was inconsistent messaging from providers and state and federal governments.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has starkly exposed all of the flaws of the aged care sector,” Rozen said.

The response of two Sydney homes, Newmarch House and Dorothy Henderson Lodge, which both had deadly outbreaks, will be closely examined.

Rozen said there was a lack of high-level infection control expertise at Newmarch House, where 17 residents died, until at least a fortnight into the outbreak.

He said there were problems at both homes sourcing PPE.

There was also “vigorous disagreement” between federal and NSW officials early in the outbreak about whether virus-positive residents at Newmarch House should be hospitalised.

Of 37 positive residents, two were transferred to hospital. One of those died, with the other 16 fatalities occurring at the home.

Rozen said meeting records showed NSW Health in April had a preference not to move residents into hospital to avoid setting “a precedent” around transfers.

Grant Millard, boss of the facility’s operator Anglicare Sydney, is expected to give evidence that Anglicare had little or no say about whether residents with the virus should be hospitalised.

Ross Low, the CEO of BaptistCare, which operates Dorothy Henderson Lodge, is among seven witnesses expected to give evidence on Monday.

Six residents at the home died of the virus, including three people among the first four COVID-19 fatalities in the country.

The commission heard 168 aged care residents have died from the virus and 1000 have tested positive.

Victoria’s aged care outbreak is not part of the commission’s scope due to a lack of time and sensitivities around the state’s current situation.

-AAP

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