COVID-19 has delayed the release of the final report of the Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety until 2021, the government says.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced on Wednesday that the report will now be handed down on February 26, three months later than previously scheduled.

The report was originally due to be handed to the government in November.

“While these delays are have been caused by unprecedented circumstances, we’re committed to ensuring the royal commission has the time and resources it needs to do its important work,” Mr Morrison said.

The pandemic has disrupted the commission’s hearings, workshops and group consultations, which have been on hold since the end of March.

Hearings are scheduled to resume in Melbourne next week.

A spokeswoman for the commission told Community Care Review the Melbourne hearings will be held remotely and will be closed to the public, and at this stage the schedule remains unaffected by the recent outbreak of coronavirus in the state.

Mr Morrison said the pandemic had reduced the commission’s ability to engage with stakeholders at the height of the pandemic.

“While these delays are have been caused by unprecedented circumstances, we’re committed to ensuring the royal commission has the time and resources it needs to do its important work,” he said.

However, the extension also gives commissioners an more opportunity to examine the impact of COVID on residential and home care, and get the perspective of the aged care sector and governments, health minister Greg Hunt said.

Providers welcome extension

Peak organisation Aged and Community Services Australia welcomed the extension, saying there hadn’t previously been the time or capacity to properly investigate reform of the aged care system.

Pat Sparrow

“We must properly investigate the reforms needed to ensure aged care is delivering the care and support older Australians need, including how we will pay for this as a community,” CEO Pat Sparrow said.

“Whatever funding model we end up with, it needs to be based on what older people need. We’ve only just been asked for input on funding models, so the extension is very welcome and a serious conversation is overdue.”

Leading Age Services Australia said the revised reporting date would allow the government to consider policy and funding changes ahead of the May Budget.

Sean Rooney

“It makes sense to extend the reporting timeline as this process is too important not to get right,” CEO Sean Rooney said.

“Given the many coronavirus challenges faced this year, both by the aged care sector and the royal commission, this is a most reasonable extension.”

Work continues behind the scenes

The royal commission says despite hearings being suspended commissioners and staff have continued to work on research and policy development behind the scenes.

CCR understands some of this research will be released shortly.

Aged Care minister Richard Colbeck said the government looked forward to receiving the commission’s final report.

Richard Colbeck

“The government will carefully consider the commissioners’ recommendations,” he said.

As part of the extension, the Tony Pagone QC will be formally appointed as the Chair of the Royal Commission after acting in the role since the death of Commissioner Richard Tracey in late 2019.

The hearing  on mental health, oral health and allied health care in aged provision, suspended in March, will now take place from July 15-17 (read more here).

This story first ran in Community Care Review.

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