TV interview with Minister Wells and Natalie Barr, Seven Sunrise on 19 July 2022

Read the transcript of Minister Well's TV interview with Natalie Barr, Seven Sunrise discussing COVID in Aged Care.

The Hon Anika Wells MP
Minister for Aged Care
Minister for Sport

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Natalie Barr:

Residents and their families are urging the Government to act quickly, as COVID outbreaks soar in aged care. New data released by the Department of Health and Aged Care shows there are 857 active outbreaks in nursing homes nationally, with more than 5,000 residents and almost 3,000 staff testing positive. Joining me now is the Aged Care Minister, Anika Wells. Good morning to you. First off, how can this be happening again? Have we not learnt from what happened during the first wave to homes like Epping Gardens and St Basils? 

Anika Wells:

I feel as if, as the new Aged Care Minister, I'm trying to catch up to the flight mid-air, we have to do everything we can to support our most vulnerable this winter against the backdrop of huge systemic neglect in a sector that is now in crisis. I'm trying to do things like launch the winter plan for this winter to make sure that we are doing everything we can for this new wave of COVID, a disease that continues to elude us all, whilst making sure we act as quickly as possible in Parliament to legislate really big, necessary reforms so that this doesn't keep happening.

Natalie Barr:

Okay. So let’s get to staff because the shortage has gone from 17,000 shortages a year to a 35,000 staff shortage today. So that sounds like its immediate, have we got the ADF in there in time?

Anika Wells:  

So staff shortages are a huge issue for aged care and one of the things I need to do is give aged care workers a pay rise so people want to come back to the sector, more people want to work in such an important sector for Australians. Now the ADF component, that came in Omicron, back in February, because it was a last gasp extreme measure. The ADF coming into aged care is an extreme measure and they have never left, they are still there this winter. What's been done since then is a build-up of the surge workforce available to the Department of Health. That surge workforce actually filled 1900 shifts last week. That surge workforce is continually available as we face shortages this winter. So, whilst the ADF has served, and we thank them, I guess my priority is making sure that we, the health team, has the capacity to meet those shortages, not the ADF.

Natalie Barr:

But have you got enough staff? So many people are sitting there thinking, this is what they said last time and it got out of control, got out of hand really quickly, so wouldn't it have been better to call up the ADF before it got to this stage? You’ve got 5000 aged care residents and thousands more staff with COVID today.

Anika Wells:  

The ADF has never left aged care. The ADF has been in aged care since Omicron and the ADF will remain in aged care, and that is a watching brief for us.

Natalie Barr:

But it has reduced hasn’t it. Aren’t we down to 15 nationally?

Anika Wells:

 It has reduced. And they only perform a specific clinical role, but that is why the surge workforce that has been building up since February. We should never have been in this position. It makes me so furious this sector has been neglected for so long. We should never have needed the ADF to come in during Omicron, that was a demonstration of the previous government not being prepared and not acting quickly enough, but the ADF remains in aged care today and will remain if it needs to, which is why I'm continuing to discuss that with the Defence Minister, but what I can do as the new Aged Care Minister is build the surge workforce, give aged care workers a pay rise so that more people want to come into the sector and start to legislate the Albanese reforms that people voted for at the election. One of the reasons I'm standing before you, I think, Nat, is that Australians voted for change in aged care at the election. So I have got to fix this winter crisis and reform it for the future.

Natalie Barr:

If you're sitting at home and your mum and your dad are in an aged care home can you promised them the same thing is not going to happen?

Anika Wells:  

There's two things that are different this winter, Nat, which will hopefully reassure people. One, we have got vaccinations and our rates are going up – they've gone up 15% since we took office seven weeks ago, and now this winter we have antiviral treatments for our elderly. If you're over 70 and test positive for COVID, you can access an antiviral treatment; that wasn't available last winter and part of my winter plan is making sure those vaccinations are available and ready to everyone who needs them.

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