Nov 12, 2020

Providers asked to appoint infection control specialists nine months into pandemic


A Canberra aged care leader says the government’s requirement that providers appoint infection control specialists nine months into the pandemic is “hilarious” and comes “too late”.

Aged care homes have been given just over two weeks to appoint infection control specialists, as recommended by the Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety.

The secretary of the Department of Health, Brendan Murphy, has written to providers to inform them that every aged care home must have appointed an ‘infection prevention and control’ (IPC) lead by 4 December 2020.

The letter follows advice from Minister Richard Colbeck last month setting out the requirement for aged care facilities to engage an IPC lead in order to receive the second COVID-19 supplement. 

The appointment of an IPC is designed to increase infection prevention and control expertise in the aged care sector, and will ensure all aged care homes have a dedicated infection control expert to design and implement policies, procedures and practices.

Either an enrolled nurse or registered nurse can take on the role of IPC lead.

Providers will be expected to record details of expenditure related to the appointment through their Aged Care Financial Report.

A “band-aid” solution

But Clayton Hutchinson, director of Canberra Aged Care, told HelloCare they appointed their clinical care manager into the role of infection control specialist six months ago. They now have to inform the government of her appointment. 

Training for additional infection control skills should be provided to aged care homes free of charge or supplemented, Mr Clayton suggested, with the funding provided only a “band-aid” on the cost.

The government’s COVID-19 supplements were intended for the additional costs of personal protective equipment and extra direct care, he noted. “This is a further government training requirement.” 

“Hilariously enough, these plans are coming out of the woodwork nine months into a pandemic,” Mr Hutchinson said. The new requirements are “a little too little, and a little too late”, he added.

Earlier action would have been better

It would have been better if the government had made these decision earlier, Sean Rooney, CEO of Leading Aged Services Australia, told HelloCare. 

A 2018 survey revealed that around 70 per cent of aged care homes lack access to education and expert advice about IPC, he said.

“COVID-19 has highlighted these gaps and services have been doing their best to invest in additional skills,” Mr Rooney said. 

“Unfortunately the months it has taken for government to clarify its expectations has made it much harder for providers to invest, with some providers who have already made arrangements now needing to change their approach. 

“The initial government online training is likely to be less of a problem than the requirement for them to complete 80 hours of coursework by the end of February – particularly in rural areas over the Christmas period. 

“Providers will do their best to comply, but as with everything COVID related, clearer communication at an earlier stage would have made the process much easier.”

What is an IPC lead?

The IPC lead role must have the following criteria.

  1. The IPC lead must be a designated member of the nursing staff (RN or EN) who has completed an identified IPC course (or, in the beginning, is in the process of completing the training).
  2. The IPC lead must be employed by and report to the provider.
  3. The IPC lead’s role is to observe, assess and report on the IPC aspects of the service and assist with developing procedures and providing advice.
  4. The IPC lead must be engaged onsite and dedicated to a facility.
  5. The IPC lead may have a broader role within the facility and can be an existing member of the nursing staff.

There is limited IPC expertise available in the aged care sector, Dr Murphy acknowledged, and he said he anticipates many IPC leads will be existing nursing staff who gain additional training and expertise. 

At larger facilities, providers may choose to have a full-time IPC lead or a number of staff in the role, he said.

Training requirements

Dr Murphy said that by 31 December 2020, the IPC lead must have at least completed the Department of Health’s COVID-19 online infection control training modules.

IPC leads must also enrol in additional infection control training by 31 December 2020, and have completed the training by 28 February 2021.

The government has determined the 80-hour Foundations of Infection Control course offered by the Australasian College for Infection Prevention and Control (ACIPC) is the most suitable course for this purpose.

IPC lead may become part of accreditation

As recommended by the royal commission, the appointment of an IPC lead may become a requirement for accreditation.

“The Aged Care Quality and Safety Commission is currently considering how it will have regard to providers’ response to this new requirement in its quality assessment and monitoring activities,” Dr Murphy said.


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