Aged care: a call for help from one husband

A Blaxland man has written an angry letter to Prime Minister Scott Morrison about fears for his wife's health in a nursing home.

Alan Dobson's wife is in aged care facility in Penrith and said she is so distressed from not being able to see him due to the repeated COVID lockdowns, that she has occasionally been on a "hunger strike".

MP Susan Templeman visiting her own father on Boxing Day: She has had dozens of calls from concerned family members about COVID lockdowns in nursing homes.

MP Susan Templeman visiting her own father on Boxing Day: She has had dozens of calls from concerned family members about COVID lockdowns in nursing homes.

"As you can understand this is very difficult for me. I adore my wife and miss her terribly," Mr Dobson said.

The letter was sent just as the Health Services Union national president expressed concerns about the shortages of rapid antigen tests and protective equipment, and as all but one aged care facility in the region is impacted in some way by COVID.

HSU president Gerard Hayes said workers were on the frontline of the virus and "not only are staff at risk, but vulnerable residents are at a heightened risk of severe disease or death".

Mr Dobson, 70, a former computer engineer, said his wife Pamela, also 70, had a massive stroke in hospital eight years ago and has been in care ever since. She is paralysed on her left side. He has other concerns about the industry, as a whole, which he said desperately needs more funding. They have been married for 37 years.

He is disappointed by the government and added "the funding is terrible, you can't do anything without money".

Federal Member for Macquarie Susan Templeman said many people locally had given up complaining about aged care issues during COVID from the exhaustion of being shut away from their loved ones during repeated lockdowns.

Since the lockdowns started she has been contacted by dozens of people about the issue.

"I'm advised by the Local Health District that all but one aged care facility in the region is impacted in some way by COVID. This includes the Blue Mountains, Hawkesbury, Lithgow and Penrith.

"COVID has been cycling through facilities since the beginning of December, and many are now being supported in their facility by GPs and Virtual Aged Care Services. Families know staff are doing their best, but virtually every facility is understandably struggling to keep the doors open to visitors."

Ms Templeman added: "It's a huge issue. I think people have stopped complaining to politicians about it because we've all been going through it for two years."

A new survey of 1000 aged care workers conducted by the Health Services Union found staff were dealing with severe understaffing and excessive workloads during the new phase of the pandemic.

More than four in five aged care workers believe their facility was not prepared for the Omicron variant and a "let it rip" approach to COVID-19.

As case numbers increase across the country, 82 per cent of those surveyed said their aged care facility was not ready for the wave of infections. Nine in 10 said there was understaffing, while 84 per cent reported having excessive workloads.

Nearly two in five aged care workers said they had been forced to isolate due to COVID, but just 16 per cent of those had access to paid isolation leave. Multiple workers surveyed said they had experienced a shortage of rapid antigen tests [RATs] and protective equipment.

HSU's Gerard Hayes said the federal government "comprehensively failed to plan before allowing Omicron to rip through the community ... and residents in aged care facilities who built this country are paying the price".

"Aged care workers are exhausted and frustrated and residents are terrified. The federal government needs to take action."

It's estimated there are more than 500 aged care facilities across the nation with active COVID outbreaks. It comes as Australia recorded nearly 70,000 cases on January 10.

Mr Hayes said shortages of RATs and protective equipment endangered workers.

"Not only are staff at risk, but vulnerable residents are at a heightened risk of severe disease or death."

The survey also showed more than one-third of aged care staff are working in facilities that have implemented 12-hour shifts to deal with shortages, some working 16 hours at a time.

Prime Minister Morrison rejected claims the government had implemented a "let it rip" approach to the virus.

"I'd describe it more as a pushing through. I mean, we do have public health social measures in place ... we also have a very practical understanding of how the Omicron variant works."

Labor health spokesman Mark Butler said "the aged care sector, tragically, is being hit harder than any other part of our community ... tens of thousands of vulnerable aged care residents are locked in their rooms, unable to receive visitors because of outbreaks."