The Australian Defence Force will be deployed into aged care homes to help with staff shortages as the sector faces a high number of coronavirus cases.
Prime minister Scott Morrison announced on Monday up to 1700 ADF personnel would become available to support through the Department of Health.
“The defence force is not a surrogate workforce for the aged care sector,” Morrison said at a press conference.
“The idea that the defence forces could just simply come in and fill that gap is just not realistic and was never a scenario or an option that was under consideration because it’s just simply not feasible.”
The move is intended to help stabilise outbreaks and support staff shortages in residential aged care facilities.
Defence will deploy four Quick Response Support Teams this week and increase this number to 10 from next week. The defence force members will assist in Queensland, New South Wales, Victoria and South Australia.
From Wednesday, up to 200 personnel will be available for each state and up to 1700 if required.
ADF personnel did an induction training on the weekend with healthcare provider Aspen Medical. About 15 military planners have been deployed to the Department of Health to aid the coordination of the ADF members.
Health minister Greg Hunt said the department had told the government about 5900 workers were furloughing out of a pool of more than 280,000.
“In order to support that, what we’ve provided is 80,000 shifts so far,” Hunt said. He said bringing workers back from retirement, and support from private hospitals had helped with the surge workforce.
The Australian Aged Care Collaboration welcomed the support on Monday in a statement, saying the initiative would not alleviate all of the challenges providers faced, but would “make a practical difference on the ground”.
“The AACC and unions have called for the involvement of the ADF since early this year to try to support providers who are reporting up to a quarter of shifts left vacant due to COVID in aged care homes,” the group of six aged care peak bodies said.
“We look forward to discussing the development in more detail with the government at the earliest opportunity.”