Professor Brendan Murphy admits there have been “deficiencies” in the response to COVID outbreaks in Victorian aged care, warning there are many more deaths to come.
At least 77 aged-care facilities in Victoria have reported coronavirus outbreaks, with at least 13 of those having more than 20 cases.
More than 800 of Victoria’s virus infections are connected to its aged-care homes.
The death count from the homes has already topped 50, with further fatalities certain.
Victoria had 295 new COVID infections and nine more deaths on Wednesday, bringing its COVID toll to 92. Australia’s national toll is 176.
Seven of Wednesday’s deaths were linked to the aged-care crisis.
“There will be more deaths with the number of aged-care recipients that are infected,” Professor Murphy said on Wednesday.
“We know that, it is a certainty. We will see deaths every day – and that is a tragedy.”
Professor Murphy – the secretary of the federal Health Department who was, until recently, the nation’s chief medical officer – spoke in Canberra, alongside Prime Minister Scott Morrison, to admit authorities had been caught short by the unique set of circumstances at the St Basil’s Home for the Aged in Melbourne’s north.
There have been questions about how the situation in Victorian aged-care deteriorated so quickly, especially as health officials had previously dealt with outbreaks in nursing homes in NSW and Victoria.
Professor Murphy said the St Basil’s outbreak, where the entire staff was ordered into quarantine and replacement workers hastily shipped in, was one that “we have not experienced before”.
By Wednesday, there were 89 coronavirus cases linked to St Basil’s.
Aged care cannot be protected completely when there is sustained community transmission, Brendan Murphy says – “it wreaks havoc” in elderly populations
Says around 10% of VIC residential aged care facilities have outbreaks pic.twitter.com/N2G2oPRYhG
— Josh Butler (@JoshButler) July 29, 2020
“There essentially were no spare staff in Victoria because of the number of staff and contacts in quarantine and isolation. It was very difficult,” he said.
“Staff were found from all sorts of sources but they were not staff that knew this community and there is no doubt that that was a very challenging situation in their work, and clearly deficiencies in care.”
Mr Morrison said the idea of a home’s entire workforce being abruptly quarantined was “something that had not been anticipated or foreshadowed at a state level, or considered at a federal level”.
Professor Murphy said dozens of residents had been moved out of St Basil’s and into hospitals, once the situation broke down.
“But there were clearly deficiencies in care last week and stories that we would have heard reported and which troubled all of us,” he said.
Professor Murphy said another Melbourne home, Epping Gardens, was also of great concern, as many of its workers had also been forced into quarantine. The Epping Gardens outbreak has 86 linked cases.
To avoid a similar situation to St Basil’s, Professor Murphy said senior staff were being shipped into the centre, and vulnerable residents were being moved to hospitals.
Morrison and Andrews make up
Mr Morrison said he was “not interested” in blame shifting, as reports emerged of a split in his relationship with Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews.
Both leaders downplayed those reports on Wednesday, after claims federal health officials had urged Victoria to cancel elective surgeries earlier to divert health workers to nursing homes instead.
Professor Murphy confirmed he had made “a very formal request” on Sunday that the surgeries be cancelled. The decision to do that was not announced by Mr Andrews until Tuesday, but Professor Murphy described reports his advice had been ignored as “a bit of a storm in a teacup.”
It followed a rare public spat between the federal and state government on Tuesday, when Mr Andrews said he wouldn’t want his mother in “some” federal-regulated private aged care homes. Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt responded soon after, calling that a “dangerous” statement.
On Wednesday, Mr Morrison and Mr Andrews were at pains to smooth out the fracas, each praising the other.
“What I’m interested in and the Premier is interested in, is us working together to solve the problem. Reports of these things about how the Premier and I are working together are greatly exaggerated. The Premier and I enjoy a very good working relationship,” the PM said.
“We enjoy a high level of respect for each other and the responsibilities we each have.”
Mr Morrison added “I understand the emotion that is around this issue.”
Mr Andrews also downplayed the reports, and claims of a dispute with Mr Morrison.
“I have a very important, productive, and respectful relationship with the PM, there is a mutual regard where it is serving the interests of every single Victorian,” he said.
“Any talk about fights and arguments is wrong. It might make good copy but it’s wrong.”