Coronavirus Australia: PM Scott Morrison in the firing line over aged care virus failure

Australias aged care sector is not properly prepared now for COVID-19, leaving hundreds of elderly residents at the mercy of the deadly virus.In damning submissions to the aged care royal commission, Peter Rozen QC, senior counsel assisting the royal commission, has warned the system has failed the elderly and their families.
And after avoiding censure over the aged care crisis until now, he warned the buck must stop with the Morrison Government which is responsible for aged care.
“Tragically not all that could be done was done,’’ the QC said.
“The sector was not properly prepared in March before the Dorothy Henderson Lodge and Newmarch House outbreaks. The lessons of those two outbreaks were not properly conveyed to the sector and as a result the sector was not properly prepared in June 2020 when we witnessed high levels of community transmission of the virus in Melbourne and based on the evidence that you’ve heard, the sector is not properly prepared now.
“Commissioners, the Federal Government which has sole responsibility for aged care was firmly on notice early in 2020 about the many challenges the sector would face if there were outbreaks of COVID-19. And that notice came from a variety of sources.”
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The Commission has heard that (workforce shortages in the) aged care workforce (had) been well-documented and it was widely reported that in both Europe and North America residents in nursing homes were dying in large numbers as a result of COVID-19.
“We also submit that it’s open to conclude based on the evidence of Professor McLaws and Professor Murphy that masks should have been made compulsory earlier in aged care homes in Victoria and that this may have reduced the spread of the virus and saved lives as a result,’’ he said.
After outbreaks in NSW including Newmarch House, Mr Rozen QC said there were no excuses that the Morrison Government did not have a better plan in place.
Despite the claims of the Deputy chief medical officer Nick Coatsworth who insisted it was “frankly insulting” to suggest there was no COVID-19 plan in the aged care sector, Mr Rozen QC insisted it was simply the truth.
“On the central question of how well prepared the sector was for COVID-19, we will be submitting that it was not well prepared,’’ he said.
“Because the risk of an outbreak of COVID-19 in an aged care home is extremely high, even with low rates of community transmission. There needed to be a planned proportionate response to protect the elderly, frail residents in nursing homes from this pernicious virus.”
The counsel assisting the royal commission argued there were three key failures responsible for the mess.
“In our submission what emerges from the evidence are three key conclusions,’’ he said.
“A) COVID-19 is presented and continues to present the Australian aged care sector with an unprecedented challenge.
“B) Everyone involved both in aged care home and in Government has worked and is working very diligently to respond to that challenge. And
“C) None of the problems that have been associated with the response of the aged care sector to COVID-19 was unforeseeable.”
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Mr Rozen has previously told the inquiry that evidence will reveal neither the Commonwealth Department of Health nor the aged care regulator developed a COVID-19 plan specifically for the aged care sector,”
Labor’s aged care spokeswoman Julie Collins said it was now time for the PM to take responsibility.
“It is up to the Prime Minister to answer questions about why his Government was so ill prepared for these tragic outbreaks,’’ she said.
“The Federal Government is responsible for aged care in Australia. Scott Morrison needs to take responsibility for any failings and provide families and loved ones with answers to what has gone wrong.”
In a video posted to Facebook on Wednesday night, the Prime Minister insisted he would not hide from responsibility, particularly on aged care.
“I want to assure you that where there are shortcomings in these areas they will be acknowledged, and the lessons will be learnt, and we will seek to be as upfront, particularly with the families of those who are affected in these circumstances as much as possible,’’ he said.
The Prime Minister said there were early signs that the hard lockdown in Victoria was having an impact.
“There is hope and I want to assure particularly Victorians and Melburnians who are doing it that toughest of all, that your sacrifices and your actions are making a difference,’’ he said.