Jan 14, 2021

Colbeck stumbles on aged care COVID-19 death data – again

The Minister for Aged Care has used out-of-date data to make international comparisons with Australia’s handling of the COVID-19 crisis in aged care homes.

In a parliamentary hearing in October last year after questioning from opposition home affairs spokeswoman, Kristina Keneally, Minister Richard Colbeck said New Zealand had experienced a similar rate of deaths in aged care homes to that recorded in Australia.

Keneally asked, “Can you confirm that, on the measure of aged-care deaths as a percentage of COVID-19 deaths, Australia ranks third worst in the world, with three out of every four COVID deaths occurring in aged care?”

“International evidence produced by the International Long-term Care Policy Network demonstrates the number of care home resident deaths as a percentage of all COVID-19 deaths. You’ve got Slovenia, 81 per cent; Canada, 80 per cent; and Australia, 75 per cent,” Keneally said.

“New Zealand sits at about 72 per cent,” Minister Colbeck responded. When asked about the source of that number, he said he would take the question “on notice”.

The Australian is reporting that the Department of Health has now confirmed the 72 per cent figure was ­accurate as at July 22, but that due to three additional deaths outside aged care homes, the more up-to-date figure currently sits at 64 per cent.

“Facts matter”

Shadow Minister for Ageing and Seniors, Julie Collins, said the Minister has got his facts wrong again.

“He didn’t know how many older Australians died in aged care from COVID-19 and now he has been found misrepresenting the situation in other countries,” she said in a statement, referring to an incident last year in which Minister Colbeck failed to recall the number of aged care residents who had died.

The Minister was forced to apologise for the memory lapse, which went on to become a factor in the Senate censuring the Minister with a vote of no confidence in September.

“Instead of correcting the record, the Morrison Government has covered up Colbeck’s mistakes to try and make Australia’s tragic failures in aged care look better,” Keneally said.

“Facts matter, and the Morrison government should come clean on why it hasn’t been honest with Australians.”

Colbeck retains aged care role

Collins also took a swipe at the Prime Minister’s decision to leave Colbeck in the role of Aged Care Services Minister during a cabinet reshuffle last year.

“This latest mistake is just another reason why Minister Colbeck should not have any responsibility for older Australians,” Collins said.

“Scott Morrison had a chance to get rid of the Minister last year but he failed.”

Collins also took a swipe at the Prime Minister’s decision to leave Colbeck with some responsibility for aged care, with the role of Aged Care Services Minister, in a cabinet reshuffle last year.

“This latest mistake is just another reason why Minister Colbeck should not have any responsibility for older Australians,” Collins said.

“Scott Morrison had a chance to get rid of the Minister last year but he failed.”

A spokesman for Richard Colbeck, told HelloCare the 72 per cent figure was the latest he had been briefed with at the time.

He said the data was being used in a discussion to show that the number of deaths as a proportion of aged care beds is the best way to measure individual country performance. He noted that the Royal Commission has urged caution when comparing care home-related death rates in different countries because there are differences in the way data is collected and recorded.

A recent international study suggests “to look at the relative impact of COVID-19 on care home residents in different countries, it is more useful to focus on the share of care home residents whose deaths have been linked to COVID-19”.

On this measure, Australia has performed “relatively well”, with a mortality rate of 0.25%, the spokesperson said. “This is considerably lower than the rates in other comparable countries such as Canada (1.5%) and the United Kingdom (5.3%).”

This article was updated to include a comment from Minister Colbeck.

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