I am frankly appalled by the callous disregard for the lives of our oldest citizens exhibited by senior members of the Australian government.
It was fairly clear that the aged-care sector was in crisis long before COVID-19 swept through like a wrecking-ball. The staff are poorly paid, the services are of mixed quality (depending on the centre) and the regulator was toothless. Back in 2018, the Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety made a raft of recommendations for improvement including a new Act to replace the Aged Care Act 1997 (Cth.), a charter of rights, a new Aged Care Commission and a prices regulator (amongst other things).
Nothing was done. The government insisted that staff-to-resident ratios were unnecessary.
Then COVID-19 hit. Since the start of the pandemic, there were 685 COVID-related deaths in Commonwealth-regulated aged care centres in 2020; 282 in 2021 and 566 people as of this week.
That’s 1533 people dead, even if Health Minister Greg Hunt reckons that many were going to die anyway.
The responsible minister for aged care, Richard Colbeck, seems to have a disinterest in his portfolio. Colbeck declined a request to attend the Senate Select Committee on COVID-19 on January 14 because he wanted to watch the cricket, despite saying he was “busy dealing with the Omicron outbreak”. Yes, he lied.
Then the Prime Minister Scott Morrison sought to defend his minister by saying that he’d been to the Select Committee on COVID-19 “many, many times”. He lied. In fact Senator Colbeck has appeared at only two of 55 public hearings. What is Colbeck doing with his time?
There has been a lack of PPE for staff and residents in homes. The vaccination programmes were significantly delayed. Then the booster shots came late too. Then staff weren’t vaccinated along with the residents. Rapid antigen tests have been scarce for months. Staff are leaving in droves and shifts remain unfilled owing to paltry wages and COVID isolation requirements but the government refuses to acknowledge that these hard-working Australians might deserve a better salary for all their efforts. Here, take this $800 and stop whinging. Many centres are chronically understaffed.
COVID-19 is breaking-out in nursing homes all over the country but until this week there was no crisis, apparently. Nothing was learnt from the horrible episode at St. Basil’s.
Elderly people are being subjected to neglect and suffering by an inept minister and heartless prime minister who both seem indifferent to their plight.
How much death needs to occur before something serious is done?