Prime Minister Scott Morrison has announced that members of the Australian Defence Force (ADF) will be deployed to assist the aged care sector as it deals with a spike in COVID-19 cases.
Following a meeting of federal cabinet’s national security committee today, as many as 1700 ADF personnel will be used to help the sector.
The decision will ensure teams can be deployed to deal with acute situations within a 24-hour notice period.
It will start with four teams of 10 and that can increase to up to 10 different ADF teams.
The teams will include a registered nurse, medical technicians and other personnel to support general duties.
The deployment will start with about 50 ADF members being deployed to each state, with the ability to scale it up to 200.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison said the measures would not mean there would be a surrogate workforce for the aged care sector.
“They have provided quite targeted support into the aged care sector in extreme situations, some of the most difficult situations,” he told reporters in Canberra.
“A majority of those are clinical support because that’s the resource available … it’s a targeted bespoke effort.”
Defence Minister Peter Dutton said there would also be 15 military planners who would be deployed to the federal health department to help coordination efforts.
But opposition aged care spokeswoman Clare O’Neil said the government did not have a sustainable solution to address the aged care crisis.
“Aged care is fundamentally about care, so we can call in as many defence force personnel as we want to assist with cooking, logistics and deliveries and that will be very helpful,” she said.
“But it will not change the fundamental problem here which is we have an aged care sector which has been in crisis for nine years.”
O’Neil said a Labor government would support aged care workers seeking a pay rise from the Fair Work Commission, but said it was up to the umpire to decide how much wages should be increased.
It’s estimated there are about 285,000 workers in the aged care sector.
Aged care facilities have been under considerable strain during the Omicron wave, with more than 500 deaths from COVID-19 since the start of 2022.
Many centres have been dealing with shortages of protective equipment and rapid antigen tests, along with staff shortfalls due to many people testing positive to COVID.
Morrison said the past few weeks had been challenging for aged care.
“It’s a tough challenge, and we’d be kidding ourselves as a country if we didn’t think the pandemic has impacts,” he said.
“You seek to mitigate them as best you can.”