Government must act now to support aged care

Government must act now to support aged care Main Image

By David Smith MP

17 September 2020

Many Canberrans who have a loved one in aged care or have been touched by the system in some way would truly understand first-hand the importance and urgency for the need to get the aged care sector back on the right path.   

The COVID-19 pandemic has only amplified the deep flaws that have for way too long affected the sector’s providers.

Unfortunately, we have a government that has failed our elderly Australians. They refuse to acknowledge and rectify their mistakes and fix the systemic issues which are rife throughout Australia. In parliament their approach has been to either walk away or shut down debate.

Responsibility for aged care falls squarely at the feet of the federal government. They fund aged care, they regulate aged care, and are responsible for what goes on inside our aged care facilities. Yet, as we have heard in the Royal Commission, this government failed the basic test to prepare an aged care specific COVID-19 plan.

Their inaction has caused immense heartache, grief and tragedy for many families. 

We have seen over 600 deaths of aged care residents, with over 350 active cases of COVID-19 in aged care facilities to date. This government has produced a litany of excuses and deflections. They’ve claimed that the various letters and guidelines sent to aged care providers constitutes a legitimate plan. They’ve attacked state and territory Labor governments and oppositions and tried to shift the blame.  

Their lack of action is astounding, and the only thing the responsible Minister for Aged Care, Richard Colbeck can do is release a data snapshot of COVID-19 infections in aged care facilities and compare it with influenza comparisons!

This incompetent and absent Minister needs to take responsibility and implement critical actions urgently in order to fix his mess.

Aged care providers set upon their tasks with the best of intentions. Yet, despite claiming a refusal to compromise on care I have heard of misfortune within our Bean community.

A constituent of mine lay in severe pain with an undiagnosed hip dislocation for over a day. There was no pain management, only flawed medication schedules, and at times a general lack of organisation. I acknowledge that our aged care workers are doing their best to look after residents in their care, however, their roles are not made easy by consistent shortfalls in funding, understaffing and training.

Australia’s aged care system has for too long relied on the goodwill of an underpaid and undervalued workforce. This coupled with a mistaken belief in the market’s ability to facilitate best practice has produced evidently disastrous results. Consequently, myself and the Labor team are calling for the government to take immediate steps to assist the sector. These include:

  • minimum staffing levels;
  • reducing the Home Care Package waiting list;
  • ensuring better transparency and accountability;
  • ensuring every residential aged care facility has adequate PPE;
  • better training for staff, including on infection control; and
  • a real surge workforce strategy.

As the Health Minister, Greg Hunt, has stated: “Every life lost is a source of immense grief and immense tragedy.” But as the adage goes, “actions speak louder than words.” It is high time this government truly valued our seniors by providing action and leadership to fix this diabolical mess instead of just empty rhetoric.

In the last sitting of Parliament, I raised these issues and government members walked out of the chamber. It left me to wonder if they really care at all.

The sobering reality is that if we had a similar loss of life or conditions in the childcare sector, centres would close en masse right across the country.

Australians wouldn’t stand for it.

Yet with aged care the flaws and deep-rooted issues are ignored.

Our senior Australians in residential care, like my father Phil, have helped make this nation a great place to live and should be able to live their twilight years with dignity and respect in a peaceful comfortable and secure environment.

They deserve much more, and I for one will work hard to hold this government to account to ensure better management, additional funding, greater transparency is provided to this much needed sector.