A spokesperson for health and aged care minister Greg Hunt has hit back at claims elderly Australians are languishing in “diabolical” conditions with almost 500 facilities tackling COVID-19 outbreaks.
The staffer said Labor was “playing politics with senior Australians” after aged care spokeswoman Clare O’Neil said last week there were “horrific implications” for about 200,000 older Australians in residential aged care.
“The brutal reality of this is people are not getting properly cared for,” O’Neil told the ABC on Wednesday.
“They’re not getting showered, they are probably sitting in pads … people don’t get enough to eat, people don’t have anyone to talk to.
“This is just the human interaction that you and I as people need to survive with our physical and mental health.”
But Hunt’s spokeswoman said senior Australians have been a priority throughout the pandemic, noting the country has had one of the lowest level of loss of life in aged care from the pandemic.
“Caring for senior Australians has been a priority throughout the pandemic,” she said.
“Aged care is being prioritised for rapid antigen tests with the program beginning in August last year and with 5.6 million tests being delivered – the largest deployment across the country of tests from the national medical stockpile.”
O’Neil also targeted the Government over its treatment of aged care staff, saying they had also been forgotten with less than one-in-three having received a booster shot.
“The staff are the ones who come in and out of the facility. For better or worse, they’re having contact with people outside, they need to be vaccinated fully,” she said.
Inconsistent rules around booster mandates for staff between states and territories is also making it harder for facilities to operate and manage staff, she said.
“We’ve got no leadership from the Federal Government around vaccine mandates for a booster for aged care staff.”
Hunt’s spokeswoman said booster shots for residents and staff had been administered across 1700 facilities, with thirds jabs being well ahead of schedule.
“All facilities are due for completion in January, well ahead of the original schedule, noting that the date that people were due for boosters has been revised by ATAGI since the program began in November,” she said.
“It is surprising that Ms O’Neil and Labor are silent on rules put in place by state Labor governments.”
Prime Minister Scott Morrison is seeking advice on how to maximise the workforce as a rising number of workers seek sick leave to deal with COVID-19.
Under a proposed plan, staff in essential services would continue to work after an exposure provided they have a negative rapid test, with regular testing afterwards.