Health committee tones down aged care visitor restrictions

Allied health professionals, hairdressers and children should now be allowed to enter residential aged care facilities according to updated national advice on visitor restrictions during COVID-19.

Allied health professionals, hairdressers and children should now be allowed to enter residential aged care facilities according to updated national advice on visitor restrictions during COVID-19.

The Australian Health Protection Principal Committee (AHPPC) also now recommends allowing spouses to visit residents for as long as they wish and permitting residents to leave the facility to attend small family gatherings.

The AHPPC’s advice on residential aged care facilities, which was updated last week, eases some measures first announced by Prime Minister Scott Morrison three months ago ahead of the original six-month term.

The update is based on emerging evidence and given the current low levels of local transmission in Australia, the AHPPC said.

Key changes include permitting: 

  • children of all ages  
  • visiting service providers such as hairdressers, diversional therapists and allied health professionals when their services cannot be provided via telehealth or other adaptive models and the resident cannot attend an external facility
  • spouses or other close relatives or social supports to visit for an unlimited number of hours.

External excursions for groups of residents remain on hold, but residents should be permitted to leave the facility to attend small family gatherings in line with current jurisdictional advice, the AHPPC said.

All visitors to facilities and residents visiting family offsite should still adhere to relevant restrictions and recommendations on visitor numbers, social distancing and hygiene practices.

And facilities should implement stronger protections such as restricting visits and ceasing departures if there are recent cases of COVID-19 acquired in the local area, it said.

The previously recommended measures to reduce the risk of transmission to residents including an up-to-date flu vaccination and limiting two visitors at any one time per resident in a resident’s room, outdoors, or a specified area continue to apply.

Likewise large group visits are not allowed but residents can gather in communal or outdoor areas that adhere to social distancing and jurisdictional requirements on the size of gatherings.

Aged care service providers are reminded to stay up to date with the visitor restriction directions in their state or territory as many of these directions are now being revised.

The Queensland Government, for example, updated the state’s rules for residential aged care last week largely in line with AHPPC’s advice.

Risks remain

Sean Rooney

Leading Age Services Australia CEO Sean Rooney said the advice to increase visitation was made on the best available evidence assessed by health experts but the stressed the risks remained.

“There is no doubt that vigilance must continue, with recent outbreak areas like Victoria highlighting the risk,” Mr Rooney told Australian Ageing Agenda.

“Sound risk management, including consideration of local factors – as recommended by the AHPPC – must be maintained.”

Guidance to inform industry code

COTA Australia CEO Ian Yates welcomed AHPPC’s new guidance saying it responded to COTA’s calls for additional guidance of identified issues.

Ian Yates

“The guidance and most of the state directives related to it now align with and indeed extend the provisions of the [industry visitor] code,” Mr Yates told AAA.

The new guidance will also inform the upcoming review of the provider and consumer developed Industry Code for Visiting Residential Aged Care Homes during COVID-19.

“Knowing the AHPPC update was coming, we have scheduled the next code review for Friday 26 June and work is underway now to update the code in line with the AHPPC and state’s guidance.”

It will also incorporate the experiences of residents, families and providers to date.

Mr Rooney said providers would be supported to understand the latest national and state requirements.

“Aged care homes report visitor restrictions in line with the National Cabinet directions and individual state health requirements. This has been further enabled and supported by the implementation of the [code],” he said.

Patricia Sparrow

Aged and Community Services Australia CEO Patricia Sparrow said adjusting the code would  be an ongoing task given the COVID-19 situation is constantly changing and evolving.”

“We are committed to monitoring and adjusting the code as needed, including where guidelines and Directives change, as the COVID recovery begins to make sure the balance between keeping COVID-19 out of facilities and supporting residents mental health is right,” Ms Sparrow told AAA.

Find out more on current national recommendations here.

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