Senior cabinet ministers are promising big changes in aged care after a damning report criticised the federal government’s coronavirus response.
The aged care royal commission has made six urgent recommendations to fix deplorable conditions at some nursing homes during the pandemic.
The government has been urged to fund more staff to allow family and friends to visit residents, and at least one infection control expert should be deployed to every nursing home to prevent more deaths.
The government has also been told to increase funding for allied and mental health services in aged care and develop clear protocols around sending residents with coronavirus to hospital.
Coronavirus has killed more than 660 people in aged care during the pandemic.
Finance Minister Mathias Cormann has apologised for the Commonwealth’s failures.
“Clearly we could have done better, there’s no question,” he told Sky News on Friday.
“The recommendations in this report will help to further lift the performance across that very important sector and that is as it should be.”
The commission recommended a dedicated coronavirus plan for nursing homes be established, along with a national aged care advisory body.
The government has accepted all six recommendations.
Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton said everybody was sorry for the situation in aged care but argued it had been dire for years after decades of band-aid solutions.
“There is a lot more work to be done and you will see that in the budget, in next year’s budget, and there is a big change coming in aged care,” the former health minister told the Nine Network.
Mr Dutton said the Commonwealth had pumped an extra $1.6 billion into aged care since the start of the coronavirus pandemic.
“But it is not about money, it is about cultural change,” he said.
“The vast majority of people are good operators but we need to apply pressure to those that aren’t suitable in the industry to exit and provide additional support for those delivering a very good service.”
Labor deputy leader Richard Marles said the Commonwealth needed to take responsibility for deadly failures in aged care.
Mr Marles said the coalition had been in government for seven years and it was not good enough to try and shift blame for the coronavirus crisis.
“This is a real indictment on them, the word that’s used is deplorable, being the situation during COVID-19,” he said.
“It is the commonwealth government’s responsibility and they need to act.”