Richard Colbeck says staff can get tested when ‘they suspect they have symptoms or just for peace of mind’
The government has no plans to extend daily Covid-19 testing to any or all aged-care staff across the country, despite the ramped-up strategy being to contain a plague at a facility in Sydney.
All staff at the Newmarch House aged care home now come under daily testing for the virus after an NSW Health review into a wave of infections last week had shown possible breaches of safety protocol “amongst particularly the staff”.
However, all told other aged-care facilities, the govt only requires staff and residents to be tested for Covid-19 once “there are two or more people with fever and respiratory symptoms within the setting”.
If there aren’t any reported symptoms in their facility, aged care workers don’t seem to be required to induce tested.
While not explicitly calling for daily testing of each aged-care worker, leaders of organisations representing providers and older Australians have caught up more frequent testing and stressed the importance of coaching care workers about a way to properly wear personal protective equipment amid reports there had been breaches.
Their calls came as Labor pushed for the aged-care royal commission – which has already been extended to contemplate the impact of Covid-19 – to specifically investigate “what went wrong” at Newmarch House.
On Monday afternoon, the 15th resident death at Newmarch House was announced, with 63 confirmed Covid-19 cases among staff and residents having developed since the primary worker was diagnosed on 11 April after working six shifts with mild symptoms.
Asked if he was considering enforcing daily testing of all workers within the sector, the aged-care minister, Richard Colbeck, told the Guardian his government had “made provisions allowing any staff member in an aged care facility to get tested for Covid-19 should they suspect they have symptoms or just for peace of mind”.
Labor’s aged-care spokeswoman, Julie Collins, told the Guardian “it is clear the government needs to do more to protect older Australians in aged care from coronavirus”, citing “timely testing of staff and residents” and ensuring all staff “have access to personal protective equipment and are adequately trained..”
Industry groups are providing consultation over a national code for aged-care visitation announced by Colbeck on Friday. On the 18th of March, the national cabinet announced rules placing strict limitations on the number of tourists allowed inside aged-care homes.
The rules have meant visits are limited to 2 adult visitors at just the once per day inside a resident’s room, and as of 1 May, any worker or visitor to an aged care facility must have had a flu vaccine.
However, some aged-care providers “decided to travel further” and went into “preventative lockdown” because they felt they couldn’t control a plague, in step with the Aged and Community Services Australia CEO, Patricia Sparrow.
She also told the Guardian that a lot of aged-care providers were concerned about the importance of PPE to confirm safe visitation, and said ACSA was now focussing on ensuring aged-care workers were trained to use PPE properly.
“PPE can be quite difficult to use. I know in hospitals they’re doing daily training, it’s not as easy to use as people think … so we’re focussed pretty heavily on training staff.”
Sparrow said testing at aged-care homes is conducted by outside pathology providers and funded by the govt, which while increased testing “has to be a part of the solution going forward”, “we would wish support for that to continue”.
She said the sector was taking advice from the Australian Health Protection Principal Committee that advises the national cabinet and said it would only call for daily testing of all aged carers if the committee recommended it.
Ian Yates, chief executive of the Council on the Ageing, also said he would follow AHPPC advice on daily testing, but said: “the strictest hygiene measures have to be in place at every aged care facility, even if there is no Covid happening”.
“There is a concern that complacency can slip in and the worst place for it to slip in is staff because unlike visitors staff is circulating throughout the facility and they’re there all day.”
Yates said he would worry if aged-care staff failed to yet understand how to properly wear PPE “because if you have got a plague it’s too late to start out training staff a way to use it”.
Courtesy of Guardian News & Media Ltd