National

PM sorry for aged care coronavirus deaths

By AAP Newswire

Prime Minister Scott Morrison has apologised for failings in aged care, warning the coronavirus pandemic could spark further problems.

The federal government is under pressure over nursing home outbreaks after a royal commission heard there was still no plan for the besieged sector.

There have been 215 deaths linked to aged care since the start of the pandemic, which has claimed 375 lives in Australia.

Mr Morrison claimed his government had a plan in place, dismissing the aged care royal commission's scathing assessment.

"On the days that the system falls short, on the days that expectations are not met, I'm deeply sorry about that, of course I am," he told reporters on Friday.

The prime minister stressed there could be no guarantees further issues would not emerge.

"I fear that we will still see things that will occur that we will find absolutely unacceptable," he said.

Health Department secretary Brendan Murphy savaged suggestions the government still lacks an aged care plan.

He took aim at the counsel assisting the aged care royal commission Peter Rozen QC, who emphasised one damning statistic.

Almost 70 per cent of Australia's coronavirus deaths were among nursing home residents, giving it one of the highest rates in the world.

But Professor Murphy, who is the former chief medical officer, described it as an extraordinary interpretation of the data.

"It's been an awful situation, but to interpret a percentage of an extremely low death rate as an example of poor aged care management is simply not defensible," he told a Senate hearing in Canberra.

"We find that a very misleading conclusion and we reject that it represents a pejorative assessment of our aged care."

Professor Murphy said 0.1 per cent of Australians in aged care had died from the virus, while the figure was around five per cent in the UK.

Labor frontbencher Kristina Keneally accused the senior bureaucrat of "self-congratulations" by using the figure.

"That's 200 people - it's mothers and fathers, it's grandmothers and grandmothers, aunties and uncles who have died," she said.

"Do you have an apology to offer those families today?"

In a tense exchange, Professor Murphy said he used the rate to counter the "ludicrous" suggestion Australia was performing poorly by international standards.

"I don't for a minute underestimate the horrible tragedy of every single death. We are absolutely devastated by it."

Professor Murphy pointed to $850 million in federal funding for aged care which went to training, personal protective equipment, testing and rapid response teams.

Mr Rozen this week told the royal commission none of the issues with coronavirus in aged care were unforeseen after high death tolls in Europe and North America.

But Mr Morrison claimed there were a series of unforseen workforce issues.

He said Mr Rozen, whose criticism was largely directed at the federal government, had made assertions against hard-working people in aged care.