The Canberra Liberals have claimed the Territory government is offloading vulnerable hospital patients to aged care facilities.
According to Opposition spokesperson for health Leanne Castley, this is both inappropriate and irresponsible – particularly given the numbers of COVID-19 deaths in such facilities.
“Aged care staff are not trained to look after hospital patients,” she said.
“We know aged care is in crisis and this is nothing more than a desperate government shifting responsibility for patients in its care.”
Ms Castley is calling on Minister for Health Rachel Stephen-Smith to answer her questions about how many patients had been moved to aged care homes, what the nature of their illnesses are, how long they will stay, who they will be cared for by and what will occur if patients or their families don’t want them to go into aged care.
“[And] why hasn’t this been done before?” she asked.
It’s unclear if people who have tested positive for COVID-19 are being moved out of hospital into aged care facilities, but the ACT Government has previously argued it is moving ‘medically well’ people out of hospital as soon as possible so the pressure on the system can be alleviated.
Health Minister Rachel Stephen-Smith said earlier this month that one of the biggest challenges facing the country’s hospitals was patients staying in beds longer than needed because they could not transfer to either a residential aged care facility or community-based disability care.
She said this was an issue she had and would continue to raise with the Federal Government.
At the time, Ms Stephen-Smith acknowledged it wasn’t easy to transfer patients from hospital to other settings.
Yesterday (27 July), she said that improving the flow of the discharge process is something Canberra Hospital is actively working on in conjunction with the Commonwealth – which manages both the NDIS and residential aged care.
She said those being transferred “are absolutely ready for discharge and medically ready to move back into the community”.
“Some of them have been in hospital for hundreds of days when they didn’t need to be there,” Ms Stephen-Smith told reporters yesterday.
The Health Minister noted the government had been looking closely into allied health programs that could “keep people well in the community” and alleviate pressure on the hospital system.
“We are looking at programs that can support people in the community while they are awaiting a specialist appointment or subsequent to [one].”
Ms Stephen-Smith added the government was exploring options to bring various health services nearer people’s homes so they don’t need to go to hospital unless absolutely necessary.
Ms Castley also renewed calls for the government to employ the Garran Surge Centre as a ward for patients.
However, Canberra Health Services has repeatedly knocked back this request saying it’s currently employed in the best way possible as a COVID-19 Walk-in Centre.
CHS argued the situation now is vastly different to early 2020 when it was expected the hospital would be overwhelmed by seriously ill COVID-19 patients.
A spokesperson for the hospital said the majority of patients are in hospital with COVID-19 rather than because of COVID-19; therefore, they are better off being treated in other wards such as general medical or surgical or cancer wards.
Furthermore, ICU numbers and the numbers of COVID-19 patients requiring ventilation have remained consistently low.
CHS has also indicated it would not be able to staff the ward currently as COVID-19 continues to wreak havoc on usual staffing arrangements.