Aged care COVID-19 outbreak support

In this webinar we shared the latest information for aged care providers on managing outbreaks, including COVID-19.

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Webinar recording

45:01

Aged Care COVID-19 Outbreak Supports

Thursday, 7 March 2024

Presented by:

Moderator:

Rhiannon Box – Assistant Secretary, Emergency Preparedness and Response Branch, Department of Health and Aged Care 

Speakers:

Professor Alison McMillan – Chief Nursing and Midwifery Officer, Department of Health and Aged Care

Dr Anna Peatt – First Assistant Secretary, National COVID-19 Vaccine Program Division, Department of Health and Aged Care

[Opening visual of slide with text saying ‘Rhiannon Box’, ‘Assistant Secretary’, ‘Emergency Preparedness and Response Branch’, ‘Department of Health and Aged Care’]

[The visuals during this webinar are of each speaker presenting in turn via video, with reference to a PowerPoint presentation being played on screen]

Rhiannon Box:

Good afternoon everyone and welcome to today’s webinar on aged care outbreak supports. I’m Rhiannon Box, the Assistant Secretary of the Emergency Preparedness and Response Branch at the Department of Health and Aged Care.

I begin today by acknowledging the traditional custodians of the many lands which we meet. For me it’s the Ngunnawal people. And I pay my respects to Elders past, present and emerging. I extend that respect to all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples joining us today and to the traditional custodians of all the lands you are joining us from today.

Today I am joined by Professor Alison McMillan, Chief Nursing and Midwifery Officer for the Department of Health and Aged Care, and Dr Anna Peatt, First Assistant Secretary of the National COVID-19 Vaccine Program Division for the Department of Health and Aged Care.

Thank you to those of you that have sent through questions in advance. We will be answering questions at the end of today’s presentation. If you think of a question during today’s update you can also use the Q&A function on the right hand side of your screen to submit a question for the panel to answer.

You will be able to submit questions right up until the end of the presentations. Once we start answering your questions you will not be able to submit any further questions. We may not get to answer all of your questions today but we will publish answers to all of your questions on the Department’s website. And as always if you have further questions following today’s webinar you can email the team here at the Department at agedcareCOVIDliaison@health.gov.au. We have included a QR code on the final slide deck where you can access this email address.

To start today’s webinar I would like to give you a quick update on the current status of COVID‑19 in aged care. Whilst COVID-19 is no longer a communicable disease of national significance it still continues to pose risks for older people, aged care residents and people with serious health conditions. But we know from our learnings during the response to the pandemic and efforts by aged care providers that outbreaks are now shorter and less severe due to better immunity, vaccinations, oral antiviral treatments and infection prevention and control measures.

However with the return to normalised arrangements in the community we know that many of you are still actively managing COVID-19 outbreaks. The Commonwealth is continuing to provide supports for residential aged care homes in 2024 to help manage outbreaks which I will talk a little bit more about later. But first we have Professor Alison McMillan who will provide an update on infection prevention and control and preparing for the upcoming winter season. Thanks Alison.

Professor Alison McMillan:

[Visual of slide with text saying ‘Professor Alison McMillan’, ‘Chief Nursing and Midwifery Officer’, ‘Department of Health and Aged Care’]

Thank you Rhiannon. So hi everyone. Many of you I’m sure we’ve talked before on these type of webinars but thank you Rhiannon for that introduction. Although glorious weather at the moment we know winter’s not far away and it’s certainly approaching and with COVID circulating still in the community we need to be planning and preparing early to lessen the risk of infections and of course outbreaks.

While vaccination remains the most important line of defence against infectious diseases like COVID and of course influenza the last four years has highlighted the significant impact that other infection prevention and control practices have on managing infection and certainly we’ve all learnt a lot over these recent years. But many of you will have heard me say this before. IPC is everyone’s responsibility. And even though we’re seeing COVID case numbers reducing we can’t drop our guard. It doesn’t mean we can become complacent with these practices. These things now have got to be entrenched in the way we do business every day to protect residents and staff from not only COVID but of course other things such as influenza and gastroenteritis.

The key to readiness is making sure you understand the risks and by undertaking a risk assessment, updating your management plans and staying up to date with what’s happening locally in your area and what the latest advice is. We know and celebrate the fact that all aged care homes should now have a dedicated infection prevention and control lead nurse as a part of their nursing staff providing that clinical and leadership in IPC on site. They need to be working closely with all of the workforce and management on outbreak management, team leaders, and providing advice and informed decisions. They need to be evaluating and making sure that they keep up to date, that everyone is up to date, and that the infection prevention and control capabilities across the homes is at the very highest level. And making reasonable adjustments following reviews or audits or those other things in order to make sure that they’re doing the very best that they can. And of course as I said this would be led by the infection prevention and control nurse but reminding you it is everybody’s responsibility.

So with that in mind there are three important points I’d like to recap that I think will help you to continue with your planning and preparedness. We know that if you plan well and you’re prepared the impact of any outbreak will be minimised, shortened and you can get back to normal business. The importance to continue to discuss vaccinations with your residents, the care recipients, families and staff. There’s no doubt when you see the change in the mortality in aged care once the vaccine became available how much difference it makes. Vaccination is the first line of protection in keeping older Australians safe from COVID and of course things like influenza. Are your outbreak management plans up to date? Are you doing risk assessments to identify anything that you might need to adjust, working with the IPC lead nurse as I’ve mentioned, and the other clinical leadership in the team.

We need to make sure that it’s part of everyday business that we’re continuously refreshing IPC training and competencies of all staff. Staff turnover, move on, and we know that these skills often get lost when they’re not utilised quickly and frequently. So remember those things such as prompting each other. If someone has a breach, reminding quietly but politely with everyone about the importance of hand hygiene, cough etiquette and all those things. They now should be part of our normal business with each other as professionals, nurses, carers, all of the staff providing care to those most vulnerable. It should be part of our normal business to remind ourselves. And if it’s not then that’s something perhaps you can introduce into your organisation about this is how we do business now and we should be comfortable reminding each other of the importance of this because we can all slip at any time.

Of course we know that once oral antiviral treatment became available in Australia we saw another means or mechanism to protect the most vulnerable. Oral treatments are now readily available through the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme or as we know it PBS through community pharmacies. They’re safe, they’re effective. I know. I took them when I got COVID. And they certainly reduce the severity of COVID but they must be administered within the first five days of symptom onset. So in thinking about continuously reinforcing and encouraging your staff, remember early vigilance and any signs and symptoms, cold and flu symptoms, often though people don’t present the way that we might expect, so is a little less receptive, whatever it might be. Highlighting an escalation of those changes in a resident, getting early diagnosis and then getting treatment quickly is the greatest chance that that person will benefit from those antivirals.

Eligible Australians can be assessed for oral antiviral by testing. They need to test positive for COVID and of course as with any medication we need to make sure that the resident consents to being given this. But again as I’ve said we know that if this approach is taken then it can relieve symptoms, shorten the duration of this and save lives. So as I said it continues to be available under the PBS. The National Medical Stockpile or NMS will no longer be supplying emergency supplies of the oral antiviral treatments but you can get them of course through community pharmacies and you should have well established processes in place now for doing that.

And finally I’m very excited to mention that the Australian Commission on Safety and Quality in Healthcare in collaboration with the Department of Health and Aged Care’s Quality and Safety Commission is developing IPC guidelines focused on aged care that is designed to support the existing National Guidelines on Infection Prevention and Control. The guidelines will provide standardised risk-based approaches which I’ve spoken about already in the implementation of infection prevention and control in aged care settings. That’s both residential and home care settings. A reference group consisting of both aged care and IPC experts is supporting the development of this. We expect public consultation will occur in March or April this year. And if you’d like to be a stakeholder or alerted by email when that consultation commences please email the HAI@safetyandquality.gov.au. And I think probably hopefully one of the team can put this in the chat. So HAI@safetyandquality.gov.au. And we’ll put this address also in the closing slides. 

It will be important for you to be part of that consultation through a whole range of means so please watch out for that because that’s important that we get these guidelines right so not only do they give the right information and the right protection to residents and people in the community, but they’re able and fit for purpose for you to use as well. So I said a lot very quickly there but we are always keen to share everything that we know in these webinars and I know we’ve got some questions that we’ve already received in relation to IPC. So for now I’ll hand back to Rhiannon and I’ll come back to you when we do the Q&A.

Rhiannon Box:

Thanks Alison.

Now as I mentioned earlier we are continuing to assist aged care homes with a range of supports for managing COVID and other outbreaks in 2024. These supports ensure aged care homes can continue to deliver safe, quality care to older people receiving aged care services. You may have seen recent articles in the Your Aged Care newsletters reminding providers about the closing date for the COVID-19 grants including the aged care worker COVID-19 leave payment grant which closed on the 16th of February 2024, and the 2023 COVID-19 aged care support program grant which is closing on the 3rd of April 2024. So a reminder to please get your applications in for the 2023 COVID grant before the 3rd of April cutoff.

In February this year the Government introduced the Aged Care Outbreak Management Support Supplement which is a contribution towards the costs associated with outbreak management. We particularly want to make sure that the sector maintains the higher levels of infection prevention and control capability that it has developed during the pandemic. The supplement takes into account the ongoing need for personal protective equipment, rapid antigen tests and workforce supports that aged care providers need to proactively plan for and manage outbreaks. The supplement will be automatically paid through existing funding channels to all eligible residential aged care providers, multi-purpose services and National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Flexible Aged Care providers.

This means that you won’t need to apply for and seek reimbursement of COVID-19 expenses as per previous grants processes. The supplement covers the period 1 February to 31 December 2024. MPS and NATSIFAC providers will receive $941.35 per operational place.

Residential aged care providers will receive a daily rate of $2.81 payable for every day a bed is occupied. The maximum amount payable for residential aged care is $941.35 per bed assuming the bed is filled for the full period.

Payments commenced on the 1st of March 2024 and will be made monthly for residential aged care. Payments for MPS will be made quarterly. NATSIFAC providers will receive payments through their grant arrangements.

Residential aged care providers will need to report expenditure associated with the supplement through their Quarterly Financial Reporting. Details on what these reporting changes will include are still being worked through to minimise the reporting impact on providers. But we can advise that you will need to plan for and prepare to include supplement expenditure reporting in quarter four which is the period 1 April to 30 June and this reporting is due on the 4th of August 2024.

Whilst we understand the impact of additional reporting on providers reporting for the supplement will be less of a burden than the previous work required to prepare for and submit grant applications for the COVID-19 reimbursement process. For MPS and NATSIFAC providers your expenditure will be monitored through your regular reporting. And just a reminder that we still require aged care providers to report COVID-19 resident and staff cases and COVID-19 related resident deaths through the My Aged Care portal.

Annual influenza vaccination reporting for aged care staff and residents should have been completed by 29 February however if you have not entered the data for your service we will keep the online reporting form open until the 14th of March. Please ensure that you complete the information by this date. The information we gather from your reporting helps us with future policy decisions and modelling for outbreak management supports.

In 2024 we are continuing to support aged care homes impacted by outbreaks and other emergencies through the surge workforce program. This program provides time limited access to surge workforce support where resident safety is at risk and all other avenues for staffing have been exhausted.

This means aged care homes should continue to take steps to source workforce before approaching the Department. This can be done by contacting other providers, reallocating staff across services within your networks, contacting recruitment agencies and reaching out to local and other private district hospitals before contacting the Department. If your home is impacted by staff shortages because of an outbreak or other emergency you can email the team at the Department at agedcareCOVIDenquiries@health.gov.au and we will contact you to discuss your request. Again we have included this email address on the closing slide for you.

There are upcoming changes to the availability of personal protective equipment and rapid antigen tests to residential aged care homes from the National Medical Stockpile.

With the supplement now providing a contribution towards the purchasing costs of PPE and RATs the supply of PPE and RATs from the National Medical Stockpile will be ceasing on 30 April this year. Up to this date you will still be able to request PPE via the My Aged Care portal.

To ensure a fair distribution of RATs until 30 April the Department has amended the allocation of RATs to eligible residential aged care homes from weekly to fortnightly which started on the 29th of February 2024. Consideration is also being given to the number of places a residential aged care home has when allocating the number of RATs for deployment each fortnight. This new allocation supersedes all prior order requests.

Packs of RATs come in predetermined sizes and therefore a shipment you receive may exceed your requirements. You can opt out of any further deliveries of RATs at any time by emailing agedcareCOVIDenquiries@health.gov.au. Again this email is included at the end slide for you. 

So to sum up distribution of PPE and RATs from the National Medical Stockpile will cease this year on 30 April 2024. From the 1st of May aged care providers will need to source all RAT and PPE supplies through your commercial suppliers. So it’s a good time now to take stock of what your supplies are and to use your established networks with commercial suppliers to replenish your stocks ahead of winter.

I would now like to invite Dr Anna Peatt to provide an update on the COVID-19 vaccination program, activities the Department is undertaking and supports available to providers to increase COVID-19 vaccinations within aged care. Thanks Anna.

Dr Anna Peatt:

[Visual of slide with text saying ‘Dr Anna Peatt’, ‘First Assistant Secretary’, ‘National COVID-19 Vaccine Program Division’, ‘Department of Health and Aged Care’]

Thanks Rhiannon. And thank you very much for allowing me to speak today. Because as Alison spoke about vaccines are a really critical part for our defences against COVID-19 especially in relation to protecting our aged care residents who may be at greater risk of severe disease and illness. So thank you very much.

My division’s responsible for making sure Australians have access to COVID-19 vaccines and in particular we take a great focus on people who are aged care residents. And even though COVID is no longer a public health emergency we do need to remain vigilant about promoting vaccination uptake and ensuring people have access to safe and timely COVID-19 vaccines.

As Alison said it’s an important part of managing the risk of COVID-19 in aged care. And we understand that aged care providers have many competing demands but it’s really important that aged care providers are able to support access and support the promotion of vaccines in their homes. We know that people may feel that they’ve had enough shots already as they say especially for those who are in age groups above 75. And just as an example if someone who was aged over 75 had followed all of the ATAGI advice on getting vaccines since late 2020 when we first had access to vaccines it would mean that they would have had upwards of six vaccines which is quite a heavy vaccination burden.

But it is important that people aren’t just keeping count of how many vaccines they’ve got but actually keeping count of the time since last vaccination. And that’s because immunity wanes over time and we do know that COVID cases are continuing in residential aged care homes.

Evidence shows that protection for people aged 75 and older greatly increases with additional doses of vaccines every six months. We also know that COVID-19 infection is far more severe in people aged 75 and over with one study by the National Notifiable Diseases Surveillance System looking at the fourth Omicron wave where they found that 7.2% of people aged 75 and older were hospitalised with COVID-19 as compared to around 2% of people aged 65 to 74 and only 1% of people aged 18 to 49. So that’s quite a powerful statistic there about the importance of making sure that people who are aged over 75 are protected with up to date vaccinations.

So in terms of that the new COVID-19 vaccine program settings were released late last week. And Michelle if you can switch the slides that would be tremendous. They were released last week and really do continue that theme of the importance of protecting older members of our community. The advice essentially annualises the COVID-19 vaccine program advice and has recommended that all people aged over 75 should get a vaccine every six months in a similar vein to the 2023 booster rollout. For people aged 65 years or older or people with severe immunocompromise it’s important that they remain up to date with their vaccinations and they continue to be eligible for a dose every six months as well. But for all other adults they should receive a single dose every 12 months.

But what I do is I’d encourage anyone who’s wondering about their eligibility to speak with their healthcare professional because different circumstances may impact on people’s eligibility. We’ve also recently released an eligibility checker on our Health website which I’ll get one of the team to pop into the chat, and we hope that this checker will make it a bit easier for people to jump in and check their eligibility. We’ve also released advice on the Your Aged Care update as well and that was done only a couple of days ago.

So we do do quite a lot to support access to COVID-19 vaccines in particular making sure that people in aged care facilities can access vaccines. Most of the vaccines at the moment are being delivered through primary care and pharmacy including general practice sites as well. But we do support GPs and pharmacists to visit aged care homes to do vaccinations. We also have the Vulnerable People Vaccination Program which enables primary health networks to tailor vaccination activities to the needs of residents in their regions. And also we have the Vaccine Administration Partners Program which is available for residential aged care facilities when they can’t access primary care. So we’ve kept open in a sense a whole raft of different ways to access vaccines because we don’t want people to go without. We don’t want access to be a barrier.

We’re also continuing to work with primary health networks to support aged care homes to arrange COVID vaccines for their residents. And at this time 99% of COVID vaccines have been provided by primary care providers like GPs and pharmacists so we think that’s working quite well. Also too PHNs are contacting aged care homes on a regular basis and in fact last year they contacted all aged care homes just to make sure they understood all of the different access routes that they have available to them which is really important.

We also do a whole raft of communications with the aged care sector, attending webinars like this to get the message out about the importance of vaccinations. We also do updates and tailored communications, newsletters, websites and social media channels. And just before the festive season began last year we did a radio release and Facebook videos featuring members of the Aged Care Council of Elders to raise awareness of the importance of vaccination. And I must say that those social media channels actually got greater hits than some of our standard Department of Health and Aged Care social media pieces. So we really felt that that had good engagement from the sector so that’s really important.

So we’d always like our vaccination uptake rates to be higher in aged care and currently we have about over 70% of aged care residents having received a booster dose since January 2023 which is more than four times higher than the general population which is great to see. But we would like it to be higher and we’re constantly looking at how we’re rolling out the program and talking to the residential aged care community about how we can adapt and change our program.

We do know that there are some barriers to vaccine uptake but one thing that we do hear is that access isn’t the reason. General vaccine fatigue which we’re seeing right across the community is having an impact. And also too we’re seeing people think that because they’ve had multiple vaccines that that means that they’re well protected when in fact it’s the time since last vaccination is probably the most important count.

We also see that sometimes side effects of the vaccine can weigh on people’s mind but we are trying to continually communicate about how vaccines actually protect against severe disease and illness which I suspect is far worse than illness caused by COVID-19.

We also did a rapid review into the 2023 booster rollout in particular looking at at risk populations from severe disease and illness including those in residential aged care facilities. And I do suspect that there’s a number of people on this call who were consulted as a part of that. Aside from the other barriers that I mentioned in the previous slide there was a general callout for clearer information about the benefits of COVID-19 vaccines and also called out was challenges in interpreting clinical advice for both consumers and healthcare providers. So we do hope that with this more annualised or streamlined advice that we’re able to get more cut through on our messaging around the importance of vaccination. We’ll continue to work with the aged care community to try and adapt our program to boost uptake as much as possible.

So I guess the big question is what can be done to support vaccination uptake. I think Alison probably mentioned the best one before which was making sure that you’re having ongoing conversations with your family members or residents about the importance of vaccines so that people don’t forget about it. The annualised advice about COVID-19 vaccines does offer an opportunity for aged care providers to actually do administration at the same time as the flu. So I’d encourage you to work with your primary care providers now to start locking times in to run clinics in your facilities. Otherwise what I’d do is I’d contact your primary health network to create connections and to get help or to seek advice about vaccination and the importance of it and how to access vaccines.

But thank you very much and I’ll throw back to Rhiannon.

Rhiannon Box:

Thanks Anna. We will now move to the question and answer component of the webinar. And just quickly we have received a question in Slido that says:

Q:        What are the current recommendations for the home care environment?

Would it be possible for the participant who has asked that question just to give a little bit more context about what they’re actually after for that question just so that we can answer that to make sure you get the answer that you are looking for. And whilst I give you time to do that we might move to the pre-submitted questions that some of you have sent in before this webinar. And I will do that now. So we have a pre-submitted question from Marion and Marion has asked:

Q:        What support if any will be allocated to staff that have exhausted all of their personal leave if they contract COVID-19?

So the aged care worker COVID-19 leave payment grant closed for applications on the 16th of February 2024. Moving forward the Department will not be providing any further funding to cover sick leave payments for aged care employees who are unable to attend work due to COVID-19 infection and have insufficient sick leave. In the instance that staff cannot work due to COVID‑19 infection but have exhausted all of their personal leave this will need to be managed directly between the employee and the employer.

The next question we have is another pre-submitted question from Blade and Blade asks:

Q:        What are the best support strategies to minimise the spread of a respiratory like virus in a memory support unit where residents are hard to isolate?

Alison would you like to answer this question?

Professor Alison McMillan:

I’m looking at my – can you ask me the question again and I’ll do it from my own memory.

Rhiannon Box:

Yep. Otherwise I can go to another one if that’s better. But I will ask it again.

Q:        What are the best support strategies to minimise the spread of a respiratory like virus in a memory support unit where residents are hard to isolate?

Professor Alison McMillan:

It’s a great question and it’s a very tricky thing to do. There are quite a lot of resources out there that you can use to try to minimise the spread. But I acknowledge that these are not easy in these circumstances. I would suggest in a residential care facility this is the important time when you need to draw on the skills and capabilities of the infection prevention and control lead nurse. Because it will depend on the nature of the residents, on the facilities and all of those sort of things. So I acknowledge it’s tricky but really it depends on the circumstances of the facility and you need to work with the IPC lead nurse to look at what are the best strategies because there may need to be particular strategies based on individual residents. And I know that the dementia organisations have worked hard to provide advice in this difficult area too. So please work with the IPC lead nurse to look at how you might best manage this based on the facility you work in and with the residents you work with.

Rhiannon Box:

Thanks Alison.

The next question we have is from Vicki and Vicki asks:

Q:        The new aged care outbreak management supplement is available now but it is only for residential aged care, MPS and NATSIFAC providers. What assistance is available to home care providers? What about home care staff that have no sick leave available?

So thanks for your question Vicki. That is correct, that only residential aged care, MPS and NATSIFAC providers will receive the aged care outbreak management support supplement. In home care providers can continue to claim reimbursement of eligible expenses incurred in relation to home care recipients impacted by COVID-19 between 1 January 2023 and 31 December 2023 under the COVID 2023 Aged Care Support Program Grant. The intention of this grant is to assist providers to transition towards managing the costs of COVID-19 outbreaks as part of normal business. Applications for this grant must be submitted by 3 April 2024. Late applications will not be accepted.

So the second part of your question again relates to staff that have no sick leave available and similar to the case with residential aged care workers the Department will not be providing any further funding to cover sick leave payments for aged care employees who are unable to attend work due to COVID-19 infection and have insufficient sick leave. In the instance that staff cannot work due to COVID-19 infection but have exhausted all of their personal leave this will need to be managed directly between the employee and the employer.

I have a question here on vaccinations in aged care and the question is:

Q:        Is it mandatory for staff to have COVID-19 vaccinations when working in the aged care sector?

Anna would you like to answer this one?

Dr Anna Peatt:

Yeah Rhiannon. And we’ve got a similar question in the chat which is:

Q:        Can you please let us know what the required COVID vaccinations are for staff in CHSP aged care services, eg community transport?

Just as a basis the Commonwealth doesn’t have any vaccination mandates however people or workplaces may have requirements on their staff to maintain vaccinations. So I can’t comment on the community transport sector or other sectors. Also on top of that states and territories may have mandates in place but just off the top of my head I am not sure that there are any remaining across the jurisdictions but I can check in on that.

Rhiannon Box:

Thanks Anna.

The next question I have is from Damon and Damon asks:

Q:        Are there any COVID grants for this calendar year?

So thanks Damon. The 2023 COVID-19 Aged Care Support Grant is still open to applications for the reimbursement of expenses incurred up until 31 December 2023 and the grant will close on the 3rd of April 2024. The new aged care outbreak management support supplement has now come into effect and will be paid automatically to residential aged care, MPS and NATSIFAC providers each month. Beyond these measures there are no plans for further COVID grants in 2024.

So I’m going to return now to the question that we have in Slido which is:

Q:        What are the current recommendations for the home care environment?

We haven’t received any further information sort of clarifying what you’re actually after in that question but Alison do you want to take that one and just provide some general information for the home care environment?

Professor Alison McMillan:

I’ll do my very best Rhiannon. So the beginning principle in any care relationship with a client is the importance of standard precautions. So irrespective of everything else that’s going on standard precautions are the things that will protect the care recipient and the provider. So we should all be familiar with standard precautions. And now what you need to think about as you approach include of course all of the things we know are important such as hand hygiene, antiseptic technique, the appropriate disposal of anything soiled and all of those principles that are so critically important. 

Then when delivering care in the home there is again that risk assessment. So we know that we now are really clear with our workforce that if you are unwell do not come to work. That’s a really important principle. And I know that’s challenging and Rhiannon’s taken some questions around that, when someone is unwell and doesn’t work and what that means for their income. But we must protect the most vulnerable. That’s a duty we all hold.

So then for the recipient of care it is ensuring when approaching them, ‘How are you today? Are you well?’ If they’re then demonstrating any symptoms that might relate in this context to COVID or influenza then obviously the staff member should at least wear a mask and some sort of eye protection, talk to them about how long they’ve been unwell and then whatever the normal escalation process for that client is when they’re unwell should be followed in donning and doffing PPE. Again importantly that all care providers irrespective of where they’re delivering care has completed these basic IPC work guidelines and training. There is massive amounts of training material on our website, on the Commission for Safety and Quality in Healthcare’s website. Simple, easy principles. There’s also posters and quick guides, quick reference checks. So there’s a massive amount of material available to reinforce standard precautions and then the principles of applying or donning and doffing PPE in the care circumstance to which you’re delivering, in this context home care. And remember also then when donning and doffing PPE there are important principles around the disposal of that safely and appropriately once it’s been used and it doesn’t get reused.

So Rhiannon that’s a very broad answer because I wasn’t sure at what context the person was asking the question but hopefully that gives them some direction. And of course if you go onto the Department of Health and Aged Care website and put in ‘Aged care COVID infection control’ those sort of things, there’s lots and lots of resources, current resources for you that you can use that are simple and easy to use that can help reinforce the messages I’ve just provided today. Thanks Rhiannon. 

Rhiannon Box:

Thanks Alison. We just have one final question which I think will also be for you Alison but I’ll read it out and let me know. The final question we have is:

Q:        Where there are no outbreaks how long do we have to test with RAT tests and wear masks given that the acute healthcare units are no longer wearing masks and RAT testing?

Professor Alison McMillan:

Good question anonymous. Great question. So again I’m taking this to be in a residential context. I’m going to make that assumption. So again I’m going to say to you we pressed hard and there’s been huge amounts of support to make sure that all residential aged care facilities have access to an infection prevention and control nurse. These are the questions you should be taking to that individual. And generally once an outbreak is over now and if there’s low levels of community transmission then the frequency of testing can diminish but the guidelines are continuing to suggest perhaps two times a week that it might be reasonable to continue to use the rapid antigen testing.

When it comes to wearing masks you’re right, we are seeing in many acute facilities that they’ve stopped wearing masks. So again working with the infection prevention and control nurse in the facility look at what the current rules are in that jurisdiction you’re working in because unfortunately at the moment they do vary a little between the states and territories. So know what the local requirements are by the Department of Health, have a look at what you’re dealing with and then make some decisions about mask wearing when it is and isn’t. But that does not remove still the requirements for those standard precautions that we all should use irrespective of the COVID status. Those requirements haven’t gone away. They’re still there to protect against the transmission of infectious diseases between people. So I have to reinforce that that doesn’t mean that everything goes out the window but it might mean that the wearing of masks is no longer necessary in the routine delivery of care in a residential facility. Thanks Rhiannon.

Rhiannon Box:

Thanks Alison. Well that was our last question so that concludes today’s webinar. I would like to thank my panel Professor Alison McMillan and Dr Anna Peatt for their time and expertise today. If any attendees have further questions please email the team here at the Department of Health at agedcareCOVIDliaison@health.gov.au. Thank you to everyone who was able to join us today. We hope that you have found this session useful. Thank you.

[Closing visual of slide with text saying ‘Australian Government with Crest (logo)’, ‘Department of Health and Aged Care’, ‘For more information’, ‘Email:’ with an image of QR code, ‘Government support enquiries email:’ with an image of QR code, ‘Website:’, with an image of QR code, ‘ATAGI Statement on COVID vaccines:’, with an image of QR code]

[End of Transcript]

Presenters

  • Chair: Rhiannon Box, Assistant Secretary, Emergency Preparedness and Response Branch
  • Presenter: Professor Alison McMillan, Chief Nursing and Midwifery Officer
  • Presenter: Dr Anna Peatt, First Assistant Secretary National COVID-19 Vaccine Program Division

About the webinar

The webinar covers:

  • the outbreak management supplement
  • grants closing dates and submitting applications
  • National Medical Stockpile changes
  • surge workforce arrangements
  • COVID-19 vaccine reminders.

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