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Social Policy Section
Australians and aged
care residents are more vulnerable to serious complications if they are
infected with COVID-19. This quick guide presents statistics on COVID-19 in
aged care in Australia and overseas. It outlines the responsibilities of the
Australian and state and territory governments and aged care providers in
responding to COVID-19. It focuses on key measures taken at a national level to
support the aged care response, and avenues for scrutiny of the response.
The Department of Health publishes daily
updates on the number of COVID-19 cases and deaths in Australia. As at 8
June 2020, there had been 99 cases of COVID-19 among people receiving
Australian Government subsidised aged care. Sixty-eight of these were nursing
home residents and 31 were people receiving care in their own home. Of these
cases, 27 nursing home residents and three home care recipients had died. Aged
care recipients accounted for 1.4 per cent of all COVID-19 cases in Australia,
but 29.4 per cent of COVID-19 deaths.
To date, the majority of COVID-19 aged care deaths have
occurred in clusters at two Sydney nursing homes: Newmarch
House in Kingswood and Dorothy
Henderson Lodge in Macquarie Park. A number of staff in both nursing homes
were also infected. As at 26 May 2020, 31
nursing homes had had cases or outbreaks.
Nursing home outbreaks and deaths have been a feature of the
COVID-19 pandemic in many countries. The London School of Economics publishes regular
reports summarising international data on COVID-19 related deaths among care
home residents. Its 21
May 2020 report notes:
international comparisons are difficult due to variations in
testing, recording deaths and publishing data
- Hong Kong has had no infections or deaths among care home
in countries with at least 100 COVID-19 deaths in total and where
official data are available, care home residents have accounted for between 24
per cent (Hungary) and 82 per cent (Canada) of total deaths and
- there have been large numbers of deaths of care home residents in
countries such as Belgium, Canada, France, Germany, Spain, the United Kingdom
and the United States.
Roles and responsibilities
Health Sector Emergency Response Plan for Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19)
outlines the roles of the Australian Government Department of Health, state and
territory health departments and non-government parties (such as health
professionals, aged care providers and peak bodies) in responding to COVID-19. The
plan notes that the ‘Australian Government and state and territory governments
will work together to provide advice and leadership on the appropriate methods
and timing for implementing public health measures’ (p. 17). Specifically for
- the Australian Government will work with providers to set
standards to protect people in aged care, establish infection control standards
and safety and quality standards, and disseminate tailored information to aged
- state and territory governments are responsible for operational
public health responses, and will establish systems to protect people in aged
care and support investigation and management of outbreaks in aged care
- other health sector stakeholders (presumably including health
professionals and aged care providers) will implement infection control
guidelines and safety and quality standards, and put in place protocols and
procedures to protect people in aged care.
Further information on provider, state and territory and Aged
Care Quality and Safety Commission (Commission) roles in managing outbreaks in
aged care is available in the Coronavirus
(COVID-19) Guidelines for Outbreaks in Residential Care Facilities,
published by the Communicable
Diseases Network Australia (CDNA). The Commission’s role is discussed
State and territory government response
Information on measures taken by individual states and
territories (such as issuing public health directions) is available at the
Australian Government response
The Australian Government is the primary
funder and regulator of the aged care system. As such, it has a key role in
addressing COVID-19 in aged care, in addition to its broader public
health crisis responsibilities.
Following is an outline of key aged care measures that the
Australian Government has announced to date. The list should not be regarded as
comprehensive. The Department of Health website has up-to-date information on providing
aged care services during COVID-19 and news
and announcements for the aged care sector.
Increased funding for aged care
Additional funding has been announced for providers of aged
Visa changes and skill sets for
aged care staff
Changes have been made to conditions
for aged care workers who are temporary visa holders, to address potential
skill set for aged care and disability staff, Entry into Care
Roles, has been developed to train staff for entry-level roles during the
pandemic, with a focus on safe work practices and infection control.
Equipment and resources
Aged care providers can
request personal protective equipment (PPE),
such as masks, from the Department of Health, with priority given to services with
a confirmed case of COVID-19. Guidance is also available on how
to use PPE in aged care.
The Department of Health has published a collection
of COVID-19 resources for health professionals, including aged care
providers. Key aged care guidelines include:
Visitors and other supports for
aged care recipients
To minimise the risk of infection, the Australian Health Protection Principal Committee (AHPPC) recommended in March 2020 and again in April 2020 that:
- there should be a limit of two visitors, once per
day, for aged care residents and
- all visitors and staff should be vaccinated against
influenza (from 1 May 2020).
As noted by the Minister for Aged Care, states
and territories have issued directions to give effect to the above
requirements. The Commission also released guidance on providing safe and quality care during visitor restrictions, and advised facilities to conduct routine screening of staff and visitors on entry. Some providers imposed stricter restrictions on visitors, resulting in some tension
between providers and the Australian Government. An Industry Code for Visiting Residential Aged Care Homes during COVID-19 has since been released by a group of aged care providers and consumer
peak bodies, and welcomed by the Government.
The Australian Government has announced measures to support aged care recipients and
older Australians, including:
On 14 May 2020 the Australian Parliament passed the Aged
Care Legislation Amendment (Emergency Leave) Bill 2020. The Bill amended
the Aged Care Act 1997 and the Aged Care (Transitional Provisions)
Act 1997 to create a new type of emergency
leave for aged care residents, which can be activated during
epidemics, natural disasters and other emergencies.
Some non-COVID-19 related aged care initiatives have been delayed
due to the pandemic. This includes the trial
of a new funding instrument for residential care, the 2020
Aged Care Approvals Round (ACAR) issuing new government-funded aged care
places, and changes to home care payment arrangements. The latter means that
the passage of the Aged
Care Legislation Amendment (Improved Home Care Payment Administration No. 1)
Bill 2020 may be delayed.
Aged Care Quality and Safety
Care Quality and Safety Commission is the national regulator of Australian
Government-funded aged care. The Commission approves providers; assesses and
monitors services for compliance with the Aged Care Quality
Standards; takes action (such as imposing sanctions) to resolve
non-compliance; and handles complaints.
Updates on the Commission’s response to COVID-19 are
available from its COVID-19
(coronavirus) information page. The Commission has been contacting all residential
services providers to monitor and support them in preparing for a possible
COVID-19 outbreak. The Commission has also taken regulatory
action in response to the Newmarch House outbreak, including requiring the
provider to appoint an independent adviser.
re-accreditation site audits and home
services quality audits have been temporarily
suspended due to the outbreak, but may recommence
before the end of June. Short-notice
site visits are continuing, with a focus on infection control and services
where there are concerns about the quality of care provided.
Royal Commission into Aged Care
Quality and Safety
Commission’s hearings, workshops and group consultations are currently
suspended due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The deadline
for submissions has been extended until 31 July 2020, in recognition of the
fact that the aged care sector cannot meaningfully engage with the Royal
Commission during the pandemic.
Updates on the Royal Commission’s work during the pandemic
are available on its webpage, About
the Coronavirus and the Aged Care Royal Commission. The Royal Commission
into the response to COVID-19 in aged care, with a focus on lessons that
can be learnt to guide responses to future infectious disease outbreaks.
Senate Select Committee on COVID-19
Select Committee on COVID-19 was established on 8 April 2020 to inquire
into the Australian Government’s response to the pandemic. The Committee has
held a number of public
hearings. The Committee heard aged care evidence from the Department of
Health on 23
April 2020, and from both the Department
and the Aged Care Quality and Safety Commission on 26
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