'Unforgivable': Lack of coronavirus planning for aged care condemned

Brendan Murphy. Picture: Sitthixay Ditthavong
Brendan Murphy. Picture: Sitthixay Ditthavong

The federal government's lack of preparation for the impact of coronavirus on the aged care sector has been condemned in the aged care royal commission, which has been told "not all that could be done was done".

Not only was the sector unprepared, but it is still unprepared, the commission heard.

The three days of hearings about the pandemic and the sector showed how gaps in planning, responsibilities and existing deficiencies have contributed to the high rate of deaths within aged care homes, Counsel Assisting Peter Rozen QC said.

"None of the problems that have been associated with the response of the aged care sector to COVID-19 was unforeseeable," he said.

Despite Health secretary Brendan Murphy telling the commission the government was prepared, Mr Rozen said the lessons of two early outbreaks in Sydney had not been used to inform or prepare other jurisdictions, leaving the sector unprepared when the virus hit Melbourne in June.

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While it wasn't fair to judge actions from February on what is now known about the virus, Mr Rozen said early plans from the government were for the health sector, and didn't acknowledge known shortcomings in the aged care sector or particular scenarios like what would be done in the event of increased community transmission.

Mr Rozen said despite a protocol being developed between the NSW and federal governments after the Dorothy Henderson Lodge and Newmarch House outbreaks, it appeared no other state had any such protocols in place, showing the sector was still unprepared.

"It is unacceptable that such arrangements were not in place in February," Mr Rozen said.

"It's unforgivable that they are not in place in August."

Mr Rozen was highly critical of the federal government's attitude even once the pandemic's risks to Australia's aged care sector were better understood.

"There is reason to think that in the crucial months between the Newmarch House outbreak in April and mid June a degree of self-congratulation and even hubris was displayed by the Commonwealth," he said.

Mr Rozen said it was open to the commission to conclude the sector had been hindered in its response by the lack of planning by the federal government.

Commissioner Tony Pagone urged the government to listen to the expertise and experience presented to the commission.

"As we often heard, the virus doesn't wait and nor should the measures that need to be implemented to deal with the virus wait either," he said.

This story 'Unforgivable': Lack of coronavirus planning for aged care condemned first appeared on The Canberra Times.

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