Aged care facilities across Australia will be opened to visitors under a plan agreed to by National Cabinet.
The Australian Health Protection Principal Committee (AHPPC), has outlined the principles to remove restrictions on visitation to residential aged care facilities.
Minister for Health and Aged Care, Greg Hunt, and Minister for Senior Australians and Aged Care Services, Richard Colbeck welcomed the endorsement of the principles, saying it marked an important opportunity to reduce the impacts of social isolation in residential care settings.
“Aged care providers have a responsibility to support the wellbeing of their residents and we know this can be improved through face-to-face visitors, whether it be family, friends, advocates or people providing cultural or community support,” Hunt said.
“Older people in residential care should be able to take advantage of reduced restrictions and participate in activities outside facilities such as outdoor exercise and visits with friends and family.
“We encourage states and territories to implement these principles through their public health orders, following a similar easing of visitor restrictions in New South Wales.”
Two fully vaccinated visitors at one time will be welcomed back for each resident across the state from October 11.
Under the advice of National Cabinet, the AHPPC said it strongly encourages all visitors in other states and territories to receive both jabs before they consider visiting a loved one.
A move to mandatory vaccination for visitors may be considered later.
While the AHPPC acknowledged re-opening visitation may increase the risk of COVID-19 cases in facilities, it saiddecisions to limit visitation must be proportionate and take into account the impacts of social isolation on resident health and wellbeing.
Access should only be limited in accordance with best practice management if a facility is affected by an outbreak in its local area.
Colbeck said the majority of providers had already shown leadership when it came to implementing infectious control plans.
“Providers and residential aged care administrators should carefully follow this advice and ensure that access by visitors is undertaken using appropriate COVID-safe precautions such as location check-in, social distancing, and the appropriate use of personal protective equipment,” Colbeck said.
In addition, AHPPC recommended providers should consider offering infection prevention and control advice and training to regular visitors to equip them with an awareness of the precautions used in their loved one’s aged care facility.
Work to update visitation guidelines will also be undertaken, including updates to the Industry Code for Visiting Residential Aged Care Homes during COVID-19 and the National Aged Care Visitation Guidelines.
Jurisdiction specific plans will also consider aged care visitation as part of a broader strategy for when community vaccination targets are achieved.
Colbeck said increasing COVID-19 vaccination rates in the community meant the risk to older people of serious illness or death was reduced.
“Importantly, as at October 1, 86.5 per cent of residents and 83.8 per cent of residential aged care workers are fully vaccinated,” he said.
“Where restrictions have been reduced, I urge residential aged care providers to take every step to support visitors such as screening visitors at entry, encouraging the use of masks, and monitoring the use of common areas to support social distancing.”
The AHPPC advice on visitation can be found here.
Providers can access Aged Care Visitation guidelines here.
The Industry Code for Visiting Residential Aged Care Homes during COVID-19 can be found here.