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Minister unsure of aged care coronavirus figures

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Senator Colbeck appeared before the inquiry again on Friday. Photo: AAP
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Aged Care Minister Richard Colbeck has been unable to tell a Senate inquiry how many Australian nursing home residents have died or are infected with coronavirus.

Senator Colbeck, who has accepted responsibility for coronavirus outbreaks in nursing homes, had to rely on a department official to provide figures.

At a Senate inquiry on Friday, the minister was asked how many aged-care residents have died of coronavirus, and how many currently have the disease.

“I don’t have the report with the detail in front of me,” Senator Colbeck said.

A total of 285 people living in government-subsidised residential aged care nationally have died from the virus, according to data from the health department website dated August 20.

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Ambulances and medical staff at Melbourne’s St Basil’s aged-care home at the height of its virus crisis.

Senator Colbeck said governments carried the responsibility for policy and its implementation.

Pressed on whether he accepted responsibility, he replied: “Yes”.

But Senator Colbeck said widespread community transmission of coronavirus meant it would inevitably get to all corners of the community.

The aged-care watchdog has conceded it should have done better after not telling the federal government a Melbourne nursing home staff member had tested positive to coronavirus.

The Aged Care Quality and Safety Commission was told on July 10 the staff member had tested positive, but did not tell the health department for four days.

“Our understanding at the time was that the public health unit had been contacted,” commissioner Janet Anderson told the inquiry.

“I recognise that we erred in not escalating this information to the Commonwealth Department of Health at the time and we should have done better.”

St Basil’s Homes for the Aged in Fawkner has been linked to at least 20 coronavirus deaths.

Department of Health deputy secretary Michael Lye said one of the biggest lessons from NSW aged-care virus outbreaks at Dorothy Henderson Lodge and Newmarch House was hospitalisation of residents.

“It is now kind of accepted that to try to achieve a safe level of care in a facility under stress that hospitalisation option is a really important one,” he said.

Mr Lye said it was important for hospitalisation to occur on a case-by-case basis.

“Sometimes the right way to achieve effective separation of positive and negative residents is to use hospitalisation of the negative residents.”

Another lesson from the NSW outbreaks was to ensure nursing homes have updated end-of-life plans for residents, he added.

-AAP