POLITICS

Deadly Flu Outbreak: Government To Review Aged Care Worker Rules

The outbreak has proved fatal.

03/09/2017 9:57 AM AEST | Updated 03/09/2017 12:37 PM AEST

The Turnbull Government will look at ways to boost vaccination rates among workers in aged care facilities, including making the flu vaccine compulsory, following a surge in influenza-related deaths.

Seven elderly people have died from a flu outbreak at a retirement village in Victoria and another six people have died in nursing homes in Tasmania, sparking the move from the coalition.

Health Minister Greg Hunt said he had asked Australia's Chief Medical Officer, Professor Brendan Murphy, to investigate ways to boost safeguards for elderly people against flu.

"I will work with the medical authorities, health care workers and the aged care providers on how we can make it compulsory for those working in aged care facilities," Hunt said on Sunday.

"We cannot continue to have a situation where people, whose immunity is already low, are at risk from others who may be infected."

At present, there is no requirement for aged care workers to be vaccinated under law, however providers have a duty of care to provide the safest possible environment for their residents and carers.

Under the National Immunisation Program, those eligible for a free flu shot include people aged over 65-years-old, most Indigenous Australians, and those who suffer from chronic conditions.

More than 90,000 cases of influenza have been reported this year, more than double the number recorded in the previous 12 months, the government says.

Aged Care Minister Ken Wyatt said he instructed the Australian Aged Care Quality Agency to conduct an urgent review into the practices of all aged care facilities.

"Older people are always vulnerable to the flu, but the many deaths this year are unacceptable," Wyatt said.

Council on the Ageing (COTA) Australia Chief Executive, Ian Yates, said he was concerned that rates of flu vaccination among aged care staff and visiting doctors were unacceptably low.

"Aged care residents are especially vulnerable to the flu and all precautions must be put in place to protect them," Yates said.

"Vaccination is less effective among very old people; which makes them more susceptible if exposed to others with symptoms, and many residents have other health issues that make them more vulnerable."

He backed the government's move to work with medical authorities, health care workers and aged care providers on how to make vaccination compulsory for those working in aged care facilities.

"Aged care providers have a legal obligation to achieve optimum physical health for care recipients and the ensure they live in a safe environment."

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