Spot checks of Australia’s nursing homes were abandoned “on medical advice” during the COVID-19 pandemic as 457 elderly residents’ lives were claimed by the virus.
The revelation came as it was also revealed 33 of the 41 new deaths announced in Victoria today were from aged care facilities run by the Commonwealth that had not previously informed state authorities of the fatalities.
The Morrison Government admitted today that unannounced visits from the regulator to aged care centres stopped during the first outbreak of the coronavirus and remain suspended in Victoria, the site of the nation’s worst outbreak.
While the spot checks stopped, workers struggled to obtain enough masks and personal protective equipment, residents were found with wounds covered in ants and residents died in their beds.
Aged Care Minister Richard Colbeck, who now faces daily calls from Labor to resign, confirmed the suspension of the spot checks at a press conference in Canberra on Monday.
“The cessation of unannounced visits was taken at the time on medical advice,’’ Senator Colbeck said.
“Those unannounced visits have recommenced in all states except for Victoria where we’re doing short notice visits.
“But we are also with the Aged Care Quality and Safety Commission at the moment and our defence force teams undertaking tests visits to providers, particularly those that don’t have COVID-19 outbreaks, to test on site’s infection control preparedness. And those have been going for about three or four weeks now.
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Since March, only 235 unannounced visits to aged care facilities in Australia have occurred at the nation’s 2700 sites.
“So there was a period where unannounced visits ceased, based on medical advice. Those have now recommenced. And we have put in place additional measures over and above those at the quality and safety commissioner was already undertaking to ensure preparedness for COVID-19,’’ he said.
Earlier, the Aged Care Minister also confirmed that data on how many workers are moving at multiple nursing homes and potentially spreading the virus.
“The overwhelming advice we have is that the disease has been transmitted by workers coming in who have been infected in the community,’’ Professor Paul Kelly said.
“That was reaffirmed by the Victorian Government’s data last week. Secondly, this is for the first time a process that actually provides that data.”
The issue dominated Parliament’s question time, with the Prime Minister peppered with questions over the nation’s death toll.
“Under John Howard, Bronwyn Bishop lost her job when an aged care resident died in connection with the kerosene bath scandal,’’ Labor leader Anthony Albanese said.
“Aged care residents are now so neglected that up to half are suffering from malnutrition; one had ants crawling from open wounds, and over 400 have died from COVID-19. Why does the current Aged Care Minister still have his job?”
Mr Morrison said in fact under Senator Colbeck the Morrison Government has committed an extra $1.5 billion into the aged care sector during the COVID-19 crisis.
“This is a challenging process,’’ the Prime Minister said.
The Morrison government announced today it will spend a further $563 million to support the aged care sector through the COVID-19 crisis, including extra money to stop aged care workers moving from home to home.
The Prime Minister was also asked why the government was “congratulating itself on a job well done when over 400 aged care residents have died?”
“Every single one of those deaths is a great heartbreak every single one of those families and for the member to suggest that the government doesn’t feel that way, I don’t think is an honest reflection of the government’s position or the Minister’s position,’’ Mr Morrison replied.
“Those opposite may seek to come into this place and politicise aged care in the way they have been doing now for some time, but the truth is the plans we have put in place, they have supported those plans, and they did not offer one cent, one extra place.”
Health Minister Greg Hunt insisted that the reforms the Morrison Government had introduced during the pandemic had saved lives.
“We grieve every life lost, every single life lost, but we also know that what we have done through containment and capacity has made a profound difference,’’ he said.