Government tables report on aged care COVID response

Matt Woodley

3/12/2020 4:07:11 PM

It has also announced a further $132.2 million to help fund recommendations stemming from the aged care royal commission.

Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety
The royal commission produced a special set of pandemic recommendations following the deaths of hundreds of residents due to coronavirus outbreaks.

Newly announced funding includes $63.3 million for a range of Medicare Benefits Schedule (MBS) measures, $57.8 million to support the costs of engaging infection prevention leads in facilities, and a further $11.1 million to support a Serious Incident Response Scheme.
Aside from providing detail on how the additional funding will be used, the document also provides an update on what progress has been made since the Federal Government committed to implementing all six of the recommendations contained in the royal commission’s special COVID report in October.
That report came in the wake of 685 deaths that occurred in Federal Government-run residential aged care facilities (RACFs), which comprises 75% of Australia’s overall tally of 908 (as of 3 December).
Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt said the Government’s response to the royal commission’s report and updated plan demonstrates an ongoing commitment to improving care for senior Australians, and ‘keeping them safe during the COVID-19 pandemic’.
‘The revised plan allows flexibility to manage individual situations in each state and territory,’ he said.
‘This investment directly addresses issues raised by the aged care royal commission, and will improve and support the health and wellbeing of aged care residents most significantly impacted by COVID-19.’
While the majority of the document concentrates on improving access to allied health care within RACFs, the central role of GPs in aged care means there is also additional funding for general practice.
This includes more funding and expanded access to the ‘Better Access to Psychiatrists, Psychologists and General Practitioners through the Medicare Benefits Schedule’ initiative, which will allow aged care residents to access up to 20 individual psychological therapy sessions from 10 December 2020 until 30 June 2022.
Psychological services will be provided by eligible GPs, psychologists, social workers or occupational therapists in accordance with a mental health treatment plan developed in consultation with the patient’s GP or psychiatrist, and where it has been determined the resident would clinically benefit from additional mental health support.
Additional funding has also been granted to extend existing flag fall items for GPs attending RACFs in person for the purpose of providing chronic disease management (CDM) services, although it is not yet known how much of the overall funding package will be dedicated to this area.
The report further states that there will be funding for ‘a number of measures’ aimed at providing additional support for both GPs and allied health providers so there are stronger incentives to deliver services in RACFs. The new MBS items to be introduced through this measure will be available until 30 June 2022.
In addition to providing more funding, the document also references the Updated National COVID-19 Aged Care Plan (7th Edition), which has been endorsed by the Australian Health Protection Principle Committee (AHPPC) and went live on 30 November.
The updated plan was drafted in consultation with the Aged Care Advisory Group, which includes RACGP Expert Committee – Quality Care (REC–QC) member Dr Paresh Dawda. The RACGP had previously raised concerns about a lack of GP involvement in the overall aged care response to the pandemic, despite seeing around 90% of Australia’s RACF residents on average twice a month.
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