More Australian Defence Force personnel could be deployed to COVID-19 stricken aged care facilities if the crisis in the sector escalates, defence minister Peter Dutton says.
Up to 1700 defence troops will be sent into facilities in NSW, Victoria, Queensland and South Australia this week to help the care homes deal with virus-related staff shortages.
The sector has been hit with large numbers of infections linked to the Omicron variant, while staff have been dealing with shortages and a lack of protective equipment and rapid antigen tests.
“We will do more if required – the prime minister’s been very clear about us making sure that people are treated with dignity,” Dutton told the Nine Network this morning.
“If we need more we will do more, but we’ve sent planners to stabilise the situation.”
Dutton defended the decision to wait to send in defence medical personnel, indicating planning was already in place in the sector.
There have been more than 500 deaths linked to COVID-19 in aged care since the start of the year.
“In aged care each year, there are about 1000 people a week who die – that number hasn’t increased over the course of COVID,” he said.
“They’re dying with COVID not from COVID in many instances.”
ADF personnel will undertake induction training with healthcare provider Aspen Medical and will deploy four clinical support teams this week.
The teams will comprise nurses and general support staff and complement the current Aspen medical standing teams.
A further six teams are being readied for deployment from next week.
The ADF cannot replace skilled aged care workers, however they will assist across facilities including logistics and general duties tasks.
This may include screening of entrants to facilities, providing companionship to residents, supporting with meals and other non-direct care functions to take the pressure off qualified aged care workers and medical staff.
Leading Age Services Australia chief executive Sean Rooney said the sector was thankful for the ADF personnel.
“The big issue we’ve got is that these issues around staff numbers and staffing levels are not new,” he told the Nine Network.
“We thank the Government for the ADF personnel right now, but we need to get back to fixing the fundamentals, ensuring that we have enough staff who are adequately skilled and qualified and appropriately paid.”