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Prof Brendan Murphy has conceded some deaths could have potentially been avoided in aged care homes during the second wave of Covid-19 infections in Victoria if the commonwealth had set up its aged care response centre in the state earlier.
Murphy is Australia’s former chief medical officer who is now the secretary of the federal health department. He told a Senate hearing on Tuesday “if the public health response had been more prompt we might have avoided some of the scale of the outbreaks in Victoria”.
“Obviously we’re looking at, for example, if we had stood up the Victorian aged care response centre early on,” Murphy said. If the Morrison government “had been aware, if we’d had prior warning the public health response may have been compromised, that’s something that might have prevented some of the spread amongst facilities by responding more quickly”.
The health department secretary said it was not possible to say what proportion of deaths could have been prevented. “As we’ve said on many occasions, once you have widespread community outbreaks, aged care outbreaks … unfortunately deaths, particularly for people who are very frail and close to end of life, are inevitable,” Murphy said.
“But largely with the benefit of hindsight and in responding with a response centre … we may have been able to prevent some of some of the spread.”
More than 600 people have died in aged care facilities during the pandemic. The commonwealth funds and regulates Australia’s aged care sector.
But the Morrison government has argued the Victorian government bears responsibility for the outbreak because the second wave saw high rates of community transmission that resulted in infections entering aged care facilities.
After Murphy’s comments were shared on social media by the Labor senator Katy Gallagher, who was chairing Tuesday’s hearing of the Senate committee examining the government’s response to Covid-19, Murphy sought to clarify his earlier answer.
663 people have died from #COVID19 in aged care facilities in Australia.
My direct question to Health Secretary: Were any of these deaths avoidable?
— Katy Gallagher (@SenKatyG) September 29, 2020
“Potentially, maybe, there could have been some avoided deaths, but we were not in a position to act earlier,” Murphy said. “I wouldn’t want it to be implied that we were slow in reacting. We reacted as soon as we were aware that the public health response in Victoria was failing.”
Murphy said: “Potentially yes, some deaths could have been avoidable, potentially yes, if we’d set up [the commonwealth intervention] earlier but we weren’t in a position to know that the need was there until the time we did.”
Gallagher accepted the clarification but told Murphy they had a difference of opinion.
“I disagree with you,” she said. The Labor senator said Murphy acknowledged he was aware of escalating community transmission in Victoria by 18 June but “the aged care response centre didn’t open up until 25 July”.
“I would argue that the response was too slow,” Gallagher said.
Murphy said the commonwealth had been relying on a “prompt and aggressive public health response” in Victoria that wasn’t delivered. He said the public health response was a “partnership” with the states and territories and that strategy had worked with outbreaks in other states.
Gallagher said 670 people had died during the crisis and “it is legitimate for me to put a different point of view to you – that things should have happened earlier”.
Officials from the health department separately told the committee on Tuesday that more than 30,000 elderly Australians had died before receiving home care packages for aged care in the past three years, despite being assessed as eligible. Officials said 102,000 people remained on the home care waiting list.
Source: The Guardian
Keyword: Brendan Murphy admits earlier federal action could have prevented some aged care deaths in Australia | Aged care (Australia)