Aged care providers are maintaining tight visitor restrictions despite a flood of complaints to the Quality Commission and following a meeting with the aged care minister, during which he echoed the prime minister’s calls for lockdowns to be lifted.

Visitor bans have emerged as a deeply contentious issue in Australia during COVID-19, as we have watched in horror reports of tens of thousands of deaths in aged care homes around the world. 

Providers here insist lockdowns have prevented massive casualties among older people. 

But the prime minister and the aged care minister claim the government’s broader community measures have assisted the aged care sector, and that providers have gone too far with their restrictions, going above and beyond what the government is recommending. 

Last week the government said it will insist providers obtain approval before lockdowns are imposed if the sector does not fall into line. The prime minister accused aged care providers of “locking away” residents from loved ones, causing unnecessary distress under harsh lockdown conditions.

Quality Commission has received complaints about lockdown

The government’s opposition to visitor bans comes as the Aged Care Quality and Safety Commission has seen an uptick in complaints. 

Since 1 March, a period of just over eight weeks, the ACQSC has received 339 complaints about visitor restrictions and lock downs. 

To get a sense of how that compares with previous periods, in the three months to 31 December 2019 quarter (the latest data available), the ACQSC received 224 complaints about medication management, which has long been the most complained about issue in aged care. 

Overall, the commission has received and dealt with more than 2,300 complaints and enquiries during the eight-week period.

Aged care providers beginning to wind back lockdowns

At least one home has begun to ease visitor bans in the wake of the government’s comments and as COVID-19 numbers decline.

Aged care provider Hall & Prior issued a letter to residents on Friday, stating it would “gently” work towards easing visitor restrictions from today onwards. 

But many providers are maintaining their lockdowns. 

Lockdowns not possible for extended period 

In a meeting on Friday, the aged care minister Richard Colbeck appeared “aggressive” and showed “no empathy” it has been reported in The Weekly Source.

In an interview on ABC radio today, he said the advice from the Australian Health Protection Principal Committee for the aged care sector – for short visits of no more than two visitors per day, among other restrictions – “won’t change”, despite provider protests.

“It’s not sustainable if this goes on for six months that people won’t have access to their families for that period of time,” he said.

The aged care sector is still the subject of a royal commission, he said, adding that he doesn’t want to see further allegations of poor behaviour emerge in the wake of COVID-19.

The minister said he hopes the current situation is an opportunity for the sector to rebuild its reputation in the community.

“On the whole the sector has managed it (COVID-19) extremely well, and I give them enormous credit for that,” he told the ABC.

“I think the really good performance of the aged care sector so far is an opportunity to rebuild confidence in the sector – deservedly,” the minister said.

It looks as though providers and the government will remain at loggerheads over the issue of visitor lockdowns, but there is, at least, agreement that what has been achieved – continued low COVID-19 number in aged care – is positive. And in the end, the most important thing is that residents are being kept safe. Though every case of COVID-19 in aged care is catastrophic, thankfully there have been relatively few.

 

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