Corporate suppliers of masks and gowns price-gouging not-for-profit aged care providers | World news


Not-for-profit aged care providers say corporate suppliers of personal protective equipment are gouging them on prices, in one case doubling the cost of masks and gowns.

The aged care sector, like many healthcare services, has struggled to access PPE due to global shortages caused by the Covid-19 pandemic.

The federal government has made it a clear priority to get government-held PPE reserves to residential aged care facilities where confirmed cases of Covid-19 have been recorded, given the vulnerability of older Australians.

Other providers, where an outbreak has not yet been recorded, are being warned of significant delays in accessing the government stockpile.

Now, aged care providers are also reporting price-gouging by their normal commercial suppliers.

Aged and Community Services Australia (ACSA), the peak body for not-for-profit aged care providers, says it is aware of corporate suppliers making significant “price hikes” on PPE.

In one case, a supplier had more than doubled the cost of a box of masks from $9.60 to $22.50, and hiked the price of a box of gowns from $90 to $175, ACSA said.

“At a time when we need to ensure the safety and wellness of the vulnerable older people we care for, and the staff who are caring for them, we find price-gouging for essential products unacceptable,” ACSA chief executive Patricia Sparrow said.

The federal government has been attempting to boost stocks of PPE in Australia by procuring more from abroad, ramping up domestic production at existing supplier Med-Con, and releasing additional supplies from the national medical stockpile.

A wide range of businesses are also pivoting into PPE production, including 3D printers, distilleries, and food packaging companies.

Health minister Greg Hunt this week announced 11m new masks would be allocated to health workers, including 1.7m for aged care workers.

Masks were particularly urgent for parts of the aged care sector that had experienced an outbreak, Hunt said.

Initial difficulties in PPE access for the sector were addressed by giving providers a direct line to the federal health department to request supplies from the national medical stockpile.

Within two weeks of that direct line opening, 80 aged care providers that either had confirmed Covid-19 cases or were facing “severe risk” to their ability to function asked for access to supplies from the emergency stockpile.

The Council on the Ageing (Cota) has reported that those receiving home care have been turning away support workers due to Covid-19-related fears.

Cota Australia chief executive Ian Yates said carers were being turned away even in circumstances where they didn’t need to be wearing PPE. Yates said the consequences of not receiving care were serious in many cases.

“I wouldn’t over-exaggerate it, but it’s not uncommon, because there’s so much fear,” he told the Guardian last week.

The federal government has since issued guidelines on when home care workers need to wear PPE.