Protecting older Australians: COVID-19 update 25 April 2020

What’s new: ACQSC — Staff and visitor entry screening and actions to support quality care and safety during visitor restrictions, new in-reach pathology rapid testing and collection service and State and territory government directions.

Date published:
Health sector

Today’s newsletter has some very important items for your consideration.

Two key items from the Aged Care Quality and Safety Commission on entry screening and some helpful advice about implementing the Government's visit restrictions.

The Department has released details about a new COVID-19 rapid collection and testing pathology service available free for RACFs.

And finally, the Department has included a timely reminder about the need to stay up to date with State and Territory directions in relation to RACF access restrictions, particularly as they relate to flu vaccinations.

Past issues of the Protecting Older Australians COVID-19 Updates are now available on the department’s website.

As always, many thanks to you and your teams for your continued support to protect older Australians.

ASQSC — Staff and Visitor Entry Screening

The Aged Care Quality and Safety Commission's Chief Clinical Advisor has written to residential aged care services providers on the subject of screening people entering residential aged care facilities.

In light of evidence that older people are more susceptible to contracting and being seriously affected by COVID-19, a highly precautionary approach has been adopted across the aged care sector in responding to the pandemic, based on the latest and best medical advice. This approach includes restricting visitors’ access to residential aged care services, and should also involve screening visitors and staff on entry to residential facilities.

Routine screening of staff and visitors on entry is strongly recommended for all residential services irrespective of size or location. It is especially important for residential services located in communities (and/or drawing their staff from communities) where there is a local cluster of people with confirmed or suspected COVID-19, or which are considered to be at higher risk of an outbreak.

The Commissions screening recommendations for all RACFs include:

  • single point of entry
  • screening questions for staff and visitors
  • temperature checks

Read the full letter from the Commission to all RACF.

ASQSC — Actions to Support Quality Care and Safety During Visitor Restrictions

The Commissioner wrote to all approved providers on 23 March 2020 outlining the Commissioner’s expectations regarding the application of the visitor restrictions. These restrictions are important for protecting residents and staff and reducing the risk of transmission of COVID-19.

In implementing them, aged care providers are expected to exercise care and compassion, keeping consumers at the centre of decision-making. This position aligns with the expectations of National Cabinet that it is not acceptable, fair or compassionate for residential aged care services to ban visits from carers and families.

The commission has some set out some actions that residential aged care services can take to support quality care and safety during the visitor restrictions

Read the Commissions full advice.

In-Reach Pathology — Rapid Collection and Testing Service

The Government has engaged Sonic Healthcare (Sonic) to provide a dedicated pathology service for rapid sample collection and testing for suspected cases of COVID-19 in residential aged care facilities.

This service has been made available in addition to existing public health pathology services to ensure the testing of residents and staff of residential aged care facilities is supported during the pandemic.  It recognises the unique challenges in providing COVID-19 testing for these individuals and their heightened vulnerability.

Under the service, Sonic will:

  • establish and maintain a dedicated national toll-free number (1800 570 573) operating from 8am to 6pm local time in each state and territory to receive and prioritise requests for COVID-19 testing of residents and/or staff of a residential aged care facility from a referring doctor
  • arrange for a specialised COVID-19 pathology collector to attend a facility as soon as possible (between 8am and 8pm in each state and territory) and return the sample to the laboratory for immediate testing
  • provide results by phone to the referring doctor and registered nurse attached to the facility within a 24 hour turnaround time for metropolitan areas or 48 hour turnaround time for regional areas, measured from receipt of the request
  • at the referring doctor’s request, if a result is positive, send a specialised COVID-19 collection team to collect samples from all staff and residents.

If, due to remoteness, Sonic is unable to provide collection services, pre-prepared COVID-19 collection kits will be sent to a residential aged care facility. A training video and support will be provided to staff to support the collection of samples.

In all cases the service must be requested by a referring doctor. All testing provided under this service will be bulk billed under Medicare. This service will be available until 30 September 2020.

Additional information will be provided to all eligible residential aged care facilities by Sonic.

State and Territory Government Directions

With 1 May 2020 approaching, aged care providers and individuals are strongly encouraged to remain up to date with the residential aged care entry restrictions established by states and territories.

States and territories are continuing to refine and update their entry restrictions which are set out in directions. Most states and territories are also providing FAQs and explanatory information to help individuals understand how the restrictions apply to their personal circumstance.

There are some variations between the jurisdictions’ residential aged care entry restrictions. For example in relation to the influenza vaccination requirements, some jurisdictions deal with medical contraindications in the direction, others deal with that matter in the supporting information.

These variations are due to the legislative drafting process. The decisions of National Cabinet and announcements by the Prime Minister relating to COVID-19 restrictions, are applied and operationalised by State and Territory Governments through directions. The restrictions are not enforceable until enacted in a direction by jurisdictions.

It is important that providers and individuals are aware of, and keep up to date with, the residential aged care entry restriction requirements that apply in their jurisdiction, and note that these can and do change.

While general FAQs are posted on, questions about how a direction applies to an individual’s circumstance or situation should be referred to the relevant jurisdiction.

In-home care providers are also strongly encouraged to have an up to date flu vaccination. Flu vaccinations are critical to protecting the health of older Australians, who are more susceptible to contracting influenza.

More information on visitor restrictions and flu vaccination requirements can be found on the department’s website.


Coming Soon

  • Outbound call update
  • More details around available workforce support 
  • Advice for isolating workers who work at multiple aged care facilities
  • Webinar on learnings from COVID-19 outbreaks (date TBC)

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