COVID-19 has affected many of us in the community and it has profoundly affected our senior Australians in aged care. Thousands of senior Australians have been isolated from loved ones as COVID-19 restrictions came in.
685 Senior Australians in residential aged care died from COVID-19 and a further eight dying from the virus while receiving home care out of the total of 909 Australians who have died from the virus. These figures are shocking, as the large loss of life could have been prevented.
Reviews into outbreaks into four aged care homes revealed a response that was severely lacking in preparedness and reactive with suboptimal infection prevention and control capacity and capability and failures in leadership and effective management.
A total of $1.6 billion was allocated by Government to assist the aged care sector’s response to COVID-19.
The many weaknesses in our aged care system have not been caused by COVID-19 – they have been exposed in glaring focus by the pandemic.
The aged care system has long been broken, evidenced by the need for the Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety to examine the systemic issues facing the sector including chronic underfunding, under-skilling and underpayment of staff, no minimum staffing requirements, no minimum training qualifications and no transparency with how $21 billion paid to the sector is spent.
There are still 60,000 senior Australians waiting for a home care package - especially for the most acute level of assistance.
We know that counsel assisting the Royal Commission has recommended that the waitlists for home care be cleared by the end of 2021.The consequences of the long wait lists for home care is traumatic and often comes with dire consequences.
Many elderly Australians wait up to two years for their home-care package following assessment. By this time their condition has often deteriorated and many families can no longer care for them - or they can no longer care for themselves in order to live independently and are often forced to go into residential care.
Every year a staggering 19,000 people who were approved for home care are forced into residential aged care before they receive a package.
Our senior Australians should have the right to be receive care and assistance in their own homes.
Our senior Australians deserve respectful, affordable, accessible and safe aged-care options that are offered in a timely manner.
It should not have taken the pandemic to make aged care a political priority.
The wellbeing of our Senior Australians has long been a priority of mine.
In December 2019 I moved amendments for publication of staff ratios and for the financial transparency of funds paid to residential aged care. Those amendments failed because the Government and One Nation failed to support them.
On 12 June 2020 I introduced the Aged Care Legislation Amendment (Financial Transparency) Bill 2020 that would require residential aged-care providers to submit an annual report to the Aged Care Quality and Safety Commissioner. This report would show us how much income each provider is receiving and the sources of that funding. It will also show how much every facility is spending: how much they are spending on food; how much is being spent on medicine; how much is being spent on medical supplies; and how much is spent on training.
It will also show us how many staff are employed for each classification and how much the executives are being paid.
Financial transparency is a reasonable requirement for any sector receiving tens of billions of dollars of public funds.
The inquiry into the Bill is still ongoing.
The Royal Commission into Aged Care quality and Safety interim report titled Neglect— underscored how serious the problems in this system are. In the scathing interim report, the inquiry found the system had failed to care for "our older, often very vulnerable, citizens".
Soon the Royal Commission will hand down its final report, which will require a major overhaul of the current broken system. Once it does, we expect the Government to introduce legislation that acts decisively on all its recommendations – no more excuses.
I will work to ensure that the recommendations of the Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety are delivered in full.
Minimum staffing levels should be implemented as a matter of urgency to protect senior Australians in care on every shift, with the right mix of skills and qualifications will play a critical part of providing quality care.
Improved access and quality of aged care services, including transparency in staffing ratios and transparent reporting is key to making aged care services accountable.