The first study of its kind has highlighted widespread failures in Australia’s aged care standards as coronavirus deaths in the struggling sector surpass 320.
Victoria experienced a steep rise in fatalities on Wednesday, with 24 people passing away due to COVID-19, almost on par with its deadliest day when 25 died on August 17.
As more seniors die from the unforgiving disease, a University of Queensland study has found just 11 per cent of residential aged care facilities met all accreditation standards and had no complaints.
A shocking 79 per cent failed to meet all accreditation standards or had a higher than average use of high-risk medicines.
A further 11 per cent of homes were found to have an even higher level of accreditation failure and complaints or issues.
Only the top 11 per cent reported no issues, met all accreditation standards, and had a lower than expected use of high-risk medicines.
The Morrison government is coming under increasing pressure for failings in nursing homes, with 126 nursing homes impacted, 1700 elderly infected and 1300 staff also catching the virus.
The study for the Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety found $621 million would be needed annually to achieve a basic quality consistently in nursing homes.
“Australians expect that all are entitled to the best quality level of care in aged care homes,” Aged Care Commissioner Tony Pagone said in a statement on Thursday.
“Additional funding will be needed to enable providers to meet those expectations consistently.”
The study also noted that focusing on quality improvement rather than cost-minimisation may have wider benefits.
“Meeting all accreditation standards is really just the minimum of what most Australians would expect of residential aged care facilities,” researcher Associate Professor Tracy Comans told AAP.
“If we really want to improve quality for residents, we need to put more resources into measuring quality routinely and rewarding high quality with additional funding.”
The cost to care for the more than one million older Australians in residential aged care facilities is currently about $13 billion, with residents contributing a further $4.7 billion, according to the Aged Care Financing Authority.
Labor calls for Aged Care Plan
Anthony Albanese has intensified pressure on the Morrison government over aged care, outlining a new plan to address critical issues in the troubled sector.
In a speech to the National Press Club on Thursday, Mr Albanese will urge the government to consider guaranteeing minimum staffing levels in residential facilities.
He wants the government to heed calls from aged care royal commissioners for independent measurement and public reporting of providers’ performance.
The Labor plan also calls for a better surge workforce strategy, a key issue in devastating outbreaks that tore through nursing homes in Melbourne and Sydney.
Mr Albanese will say the royal commission should be given extra resources to look specifically at coronavirus in the sector while not delaying its final report.
He also argues the government is hurting future seniors by allowing more people early access to superannuation.
“As coronavirus continues its awful march through our aged care sector, we are seeing many of our fellow Australians – desperate and painted into a corner – succumbing to the costly temptation to raid their own superannuation,” he will say.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison is continuing to defend his government’s spending on the sector and preparedness for coronavirus.
He has rejected calls to dump embattled Aged Care Minister Richard Colbeck, who has come under heavy pressure this week.
The government has made qualified apologies about issues in the sector while also pointing to problems in Victoria’s coronavirus protection regime and health response.
Mr Morrison believes Australia’s strong performance by international standards is also a key consideration.
He has flagged further aged care funding in the October 6 budget.