Aged care providers across the country are struggling to get enough personal protection equipment and are paying inflated prices for the PPE they can access.
Age and Community Services Australia CEO, Pat Sparrow, told HelloCare access to PPE is the aged care industry’s biggest worry at the moment.
“It’s the number one concern providers have, that they have enough PPE to protect residents, clients and staff,” she said.
“It’s getting harder for providers to access it in the quantity that they might normally have been able to access it.”
Leading Age Services Australia CEO, Sean Rooney, told HelloCare, “In ordinary times, residential care services have stocks of PPE on hand in case an outbreak of flu or some other infectious disease occurs. But they are increasingly using up these stocks. Many tell us they are just weeks away from running out even as they attempt to ration use.”
“Prices for new supply have sky rocketed,” Mr Rooney said. “For example masks have gone up by over 1,000 per cent. And even paying these higher prices, it is challenging to source new supply quickly and reliably.”
Ms Sparrow said the sector needs to be clear about when PPE does and does not need to be used to ensure safety but also to preserve stocks. Other infection control measures, such as hand washing and physical distancing, must also be closely observed, she said.
Government guidelines for when PPE is required in home care can be found here. Home care workers should not enter the home of a person who is unwell.
Government guidelines for when PPE is required in residential aged care can be found here.
Aged care is at the forefront of the nation’s response to COVID-19, due to older people’s vulnerability to the disease.
There are now 41 confirmed COVID-19 cases in 17 nursing homes across Australia, according to a report by the ABC. Those figures reflect an increase of seven residents and staff and four nursing homes in only two days.
As the sector responds to heightened concerns about infection control, increased use of PPEs has created a shortage. At Baptist Care, where there have been several confirmed cases of COVID-19, 800 sets of PPE are being used daily.
The shortages have prompted the government to limit access to its emergency stockpiles to aged care facilities where there has been a confirmed case of COVID-19.
In the last two week, 80 aged care providers with either confirmed cases of COVID-19 or facing “severe risk” to their operations have asked the government to access their emergency stockpiles, according to a report in The Guardian.
The Department’s website states only masks are available “at this stage”.
“Other PPE will be provided when available”, it states. Full PPE also consists of eyewear, gloves and clothing protection.
Facilities without a confirmed case of COVID-19 should “expect delays in receiving your PPE due to the increase in demand”, the Department’s website says.
Mr Rooney said the government is working hard to address the shortages. “We know that the government is working with manufacturers and suppliers to boost supply and unblock logistical bottlenecks.”
“This is an unprecedented situation and everyone is doing their best to resolve these issues as quickly as possible,” he said.
Since aged care providers began to experience difficulties accessing PPE, the government has established a priority email for them to use so they didn’t have to go through their primary health network to access to the emergency stockpile.
“Aged care providers that require PPE must now email email@example.com for all requests – please don’t approach Primary Health Networks,” the website states.
“The Department of Health will triage your request to determine priority and may be in contact with you for further information.”
Once approved, requests for PPE will be shared with a ‘National Incident Room’ who will work with your state government to distribute supplies.
Those wishing to access the stockpile must not only provide details of their confirmed case, they must also provide details of other suppliers they have attempted to source PPE from.
Approximately 65 of the emergency 80 requests for PPE had been granted, as of Tuesday this week according to The Guardian report.
Providers HelloCare has spoken to have been approached with online offers to sell PPE. Concerns about counterfeit PPE are raising fears some PPE on the market may not be of appropriate quality.
Hospitals and aged care facilities are tightening security of their PPE supplies amid concerns about stealing.
This article was edited on 4 April to include a comment from LASA.