A ROYAL commission has pinpointed failure by government to act quickly and with a lack of clear guidelines as reasons for a devastating outbreak of coronavirus in aged care during the COVID-19 pandemic.
A second royal commission, into disability, has heard that failure to plan and act properly meant the months of COVID-19 restrictions had resulted in the neglect and exploitation of people with disabilities.
At the Aged Care royal commission, the counsel assisting, Peter Rozen QC, delivered stinging criticism during a week of emergency hearings that ended on August 18.
The inquiry was called to examine how the coronavirus pandemic entered Australia’s nursing homes.
So far more than 220 aged care residents have died due to COVID-19, making up 70 per cent of the nation’s deaths.
“The time between the two Sydney outbreaks (in April) and the increase in community transmission in Melbourne in June was an important period,” Mr Rozen said during his summing up.
“What did the Commonwealth do to ensure the lessons of the two outbreaks were conveyed to the aged care sector? We say it’s not enough.”
He also said Australia acted too late making masks compulsory.
Mr Rozen told the commission that Australia had become one of the worst-performing countries in the world in aged care deaths.
He said many experts had sounded the alarm over COVID-19.
“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,” Mr Rozen said.
He said the aged care sector was identified in a 2018 taskforce report as being understaffed and lacking nurses with clinical skills.
Mr Rozen said it had been widely reported in both Europe and America that residents were dying in nursing homes as a result of the pandemic.
Organisations like the Nursing and Midwifery Federation had also raised their concerns about the sector’s lack of preparedness for COVID-19 and had offered solutions.
The royal commission into disability has heard the federal government failed to develop a coronavirus response plan for people living with disability.
Senior counsel assisting Kate Eastman SC said people with a disability and their advocates “watched and waited” for the government to come up with a plan that addressed their needs.
By April there was still no disability sector plan.
It was not until April 16, more than a month after the World Health Organisation had declared a pandemic, that the federal government released a plan.
Ms Eastman told the inquiry there had been a sharp increase in violence against women with a disability during the pandemic.
She described as “frightening” the findings of a recent survey on domestic violence.
“One in four said they had experienced physical violence during COVID-19. One in six said they had experienced sexual violence during COVID-19,” Ms Eastman said.
“Two in five said they had experienced emotional, abusive, harassing or controlling behaviour during COVID-19.”
A witness who gave evidence via videolink from Victoria explained how she had endured a decade of abuse at the hands of her former husband.
She said the pandemic lockdown was making it more difficult for women with a disability to ask for help.
“If a support worker is coming in (to the home), with a violent partner there it isn’t safe,” the witness told the commission.
“The opportunities to have those conversations have been removed.”