The Australian Nursing and Midwifery Federation (Victorian Branch) is calling on the Morrison government to reveal the true scope of the multiple private contracts it has relied on to vaccinate private aged care workers.
When the vaccine rollout was unveiled in February, Federal Health and Aged Care Minister Greg Hunt said vaccination for residents and staff “will be made available through residential aged care facilities where they live or work, and it will be administered through an in-reach workforce provider”.
In the same statement, Minister for Senior Australians and Aged Care Services, Richard Colbeck, said the Australian government would be solely responsible for leading the implementation of the COVID-19 vaccination program in the aged care sector.
Months on, at yesterday’s Senate Estimates, Mr Colbeck admitted he did not know exactly how many aged care workers had been vaccinated and that he was comfortable with the pace and progress of the rollout. He could not provide data about the number of aged care workers who have received a first or second vaccine dose, or none.
“It’s like their promise to vaccinate the aged care workforce through an in-reach program in the facilities never, ever existed,” ANMF (Vic Branch) Secretary Lisa Fitzpatrick said.
“Was it only ever a vaccine-dregs-for-staff arrangement?”
Today, when asked about Aspen Medical, Mr Colbeck revealed the private company was contracted to provide vaccinations only for residents and not aged care staff.
Ms Fitzpatrick said aged care workers should not be blamed for not being vaccinated given that the government never told them they had no intention to vaccinate them at their workplace.
The ANMF has called for the Morrison government to act urgently and with transparency. This includes reporting on the actual national and state numbers, not percentages, of aged care staff who have had one and/or two doses of vaccinations or none; publicising the dates when vaccinations are occurring and the names of the facilities; immediately organising in-reach teams to finalise vaccination of residents and staff; and funding ongoing single-site employment beyond 10 June for private aged care sector workers rather than introducing the directive too late once outbreaks have occurred.
In light of the bungled rollout, and with Victoria in the grip of another lockdown following emerging COVID-19 cases, including outbreaks in aged care, Ms Fitzpatrick said the union was now calling on Senator Colbeck to resign immediately.
“The Royal Commission revealed the private aged care system was in crisis before the pandemic, Australia needs an aged care minister who will never be comfortable until residents and staff are properly protected from COVID-19,” she said.
“We’re calling on Senator Colbeck to resign. We need a minister who gets things done with a sense of urgency, care and respect for the residents and the dedicated staff.”
Ms Fitzpatrick said the Morrison government had abandoned Victoria’s private aged care nurses and personal care workers.
Yesterday, the Victorian government announced a five-day vaccine blitz that will target aged care workers and disability care staff. Until Sunday, workers will be given priority access at walk-in vaccination hubs across the state.
“Responsibility for vaccinating the workforce, along with funding and vaccines, should have been given to the states months ago given the Morrison government contracts appear never to have included the workforce.”
The Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) echoed the calls, saying the Morrison Government had failed in their essential task and should handover responsibility for the rollout in aged and disability care to the states, who have proven much more effective.
“The federal government had abandoned workers when it comes to in-workplace vaccination,” ACTU Secretary Sally McManus said.
“Workers shouldn’t be facing barriers to get vaccination. We need financial support for anyone who is being asked to give up hours of work in order to get vaccinated, especially in aged and disability care.
“In State-controlled aged care in Victoria we have almost 100% vaccination – in the federally administered private system, we are again on the brink of crisis.”