This week, the Federal Government released its National COVID-19 Health Management Plan for 2023 as case numbers soar and the country braces for its first Christmas without restrictions since 2019 – but it has already been met with criticism.
The 2023 plan will see aged care facilities continue to be provided with Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), Rapid Antigen Tests (RATs) and access to a surge workforce that can be brought in to help support pre-existing workers in the event of an outbreak.
But the Australian Medical Association (AMA) is disappointed that the Government has chosen not to continue the 50-50 COVID-19 funding agreement between States and the Commonwealth, which is due to end on December 31.
AMA President, Professor Steve Robson, said while the Association acknowledges the benefits of other measures announced in this plan, the sector needs a “permanent and fairer funding agreement”.
“COVID-19 is not over, no matter how much the Federal Government wishes it was. It is a deadly and debilitating disease which is playing havoc with lives and the health system,” Professor Robson said.
“We are about to hit one of the busiest times of the year for our public hospitals and there will likely be a surge in COVID-19 cases out of the fourth wave – this is the worst time to pull the financial rug out from under the states.
“This is a bewildering decision by the Government and goes against the advice of many experts including the AMA. We call on the Health Minister to reconsider.”
Health and Aged Care Minister, Mark Butler, said the 2023 COVID management plan will see existing arrangements extended into the new year to protect older Australians and aged care workers as the virus sweeps through aged care facilities for the fourth time.
“The National Plan provides clear guidance to the community and health care providers on how the Australian Government will play its part in managing COVID-19 into the future,” he said.
“We will continue to protect those most at risk, while ensuring we have the capacity to respond to future waves and variants.”
The plan states that staff who test positive for COVID should not attend work for at least seven days and until they have no symptoms – including staff providing close personal care to an older person in their home or a community setting.
These workers should be supported to take leave and be paid for it, and organisations can be assured that they will be supported by a backup surge workforce if an outbreak were to happen.
Visitors must also not be showing any COVID symptoms to enter a facility, but the plan outlined providers need to support ongoing visitation and recovery activities for both older people in their home and those in residential care.
It is recommended that even residents who are isolating should have access to at least one essential visitor at any given time.
Providers are also advised to ensure appropriate infection prevention and control measures are in place with a plan for how they will expand those measures in the event of an outbreak. These procedures need to be understood by both staff and residents of the facility.
The plan also advises facilities should reestablish screening processes for entering the facility and lock-down zones.
As of December 8, there were 5,164 active COVID-19 cases in 695 residential aged care facilities across Australia.
You can stay up to date with the latest news on COVID on the Department of Health and Aged Care website.