GPs call for better protection as two of their own battle COVID

Doug Hendrie

3/08/2020 4:34:55 PM

Calls are mounting for health authorities to better protect primary care professionals, with almost 1000 Australian healthcare workers infected and multiple GPs hospitalised with COVID-19.

GP doing drive-thru test
Around one in 10 of all coronavirus cases in Victoria’s difficult-to-control outbreak are healthcare workers, according to state government figures.


Multiple GPs are now battling COVID-19 in hospital, including one in her 30s who acquired the virus at a respiratory clinic, and another in their 60s.

The latest figures reported on Friday 7 August show 911 Australian healthcare workers have active COVID-19 cases, an increase of 101 cases from the previous day.
RACGP Victoria Chair Dr Cameron Loy told newsGP the hospitalisations show that frontline workers like GPs are still not safe amid the pandemic, exposing flaws in the provision of personal protective equipment (PPE).
‘One in 10 currently infected people are healthcare workers, and two of three doctors hospitalised are GPs,’ he said.
‘If we do not resolve the problems we still have with PPE, we are going to have more healthcare workers sick – and some will die.
‘I don’t care whether PPE support for GPs comes from the state or federal government. Both have a responsibility to Victorians. It just needs to appear and the divisions [between state and federal] cannot be used as an excuse.
‘It is not good enough to expect us to be part of the public health response but to turn around and tell us we are private enterprises when we need PPE. That is disingenuous.’

Dr Suzi Nou, President of the Australian Society of Anaesthetists, agrees more needs to be done to protect frontline healthcare workers.

‘Existing infection control guidelines in Victorian hospitals are clearly not protecting healthcare workers, and our frontline workers are not being provided with adequate respiratory protection,’ she said

‘We are growing increasingly concerned by the lack of health and safety expertise being engaged by the healthcare industry to implement fit-for-purpose, risk-based control strategies to manage the hazards associated with caring for COVID-19 infection in healthcare settings.

‘We continue to call for P2/N95 masks to be mandated in high-risk clinical areas when interacting with known or suspected COVID-19 cases.’
GPs have also been clamouring for more and better PPE since the pandemic began.
The Federal Department of Health (DoH) has made limited supplies of masks available through Primary Health Networks, with global supply shortages persisting.
Dr Loy sounded the alarm over PPE as the Victorian outbreak intensified in mid-July, saying GPs were still ‘scrounging’ for their own PPE and calling for better access to government stockpiles.  
The Victorian Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) last week updated its guidelines on PPE use to say that all healthcare workers should use eye protection in areas with higher coronavirus prevalence. 
‘The state has now said all healthcare workers should use eye protection. They didn’t say just the ones we pay for. We have followed the recommendations from our state health department,’ Dr Loy said. 
Dr Loy told newsGP the updated guidelines indicate that GPs in the coronavirus-stricken state should now be considered Tier 1, given they were healthcare workers operating in ‘areas of higher clinical risk’.
‘GPs now need to try and find eye protection,’ he said.
A DHHS spokeswoman directed newsGP to the Federal DoH after being asked about the PPE guidance update.
‘The Commonwealth is responsible for the guidance and supply of PPE to GPs and other community providers,’ she said.
New granular detail on cases
The updates on PPE guidelines come as GP lobbying helped win access to Victorian coronavirus data down to a postcode level, following Dr Loy’s urgent calls in July for more greater detail.
The new postcode data is the most detailed made publicly available so far. Previous data was restricted to local government areas, which can cover large areas.
The new data shows the Melbourne postcode 3029, which covers suburbs such as Truganina and Hoppers Crossing, is the currently the worst affected with 346 active coronavirus cases.
Dr Loy said the postcode data is vital for GPs to help plan for their own protection – and to help persuade their patients to take lockdown restrictions seriously.
‘Knowing that there are cases in your suburb changes what you do as a GP and changes how the community behaves,’ he said.
‘Instead of assuming the virus is not in [the suburb of] Lara, where I work, which has been the community attitude for many weeks – we can now say that’s not true. There are five cases now in Lara. That helps change behaviour and orient the whole population to pitch in.
‘It can help the community understand that it’s all around us and that you can’t assume you live in a safe postcode.’
Regional Victorian areas such as Colac have now seen dozens of cases, raising fears the contagion is spreading too easily outside the lockdown area of metropolitan Melbourne and Mitchell Shire . Colac now has the highest number of active cases, at 69cases.
‘I’m pleased DHHS have found a way to deliver this data to GPs and to the community,’ Dr Loy said. ‘This is important to let the whole community own this problem, so the whole community can fix this problem.’  
The Age reports that the data comes with some caveats, however, such as the fact the postcode is based on a person’s area of residence, not where they were infected.
Postcode-level data will be released to the media every Thursday, a DHHS spokesperson told newsGP.
In terms of data transparency, top epidemiologists have called for even more detailed information about Victoria’s still-growing outbreak.
Melbourne University Professor John Mathews and colleagues want more specific details about each case, such as whether they were symptomatic, what the symptoms were, whether they were close contacts of a positive case, and test result times.
But Dr Loy said that while that information would be useful for epidemiologists, he does not think it is likely that the DHHS would release it.
‘It’s clearly difficult for DHHS to find a way to give us that level of information,’ he said.
‘It will be a valuable set of data for public health researchers and epidemiologists, but for now the community just needs to know that there are cases so they can change their behaviour.’
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*This article originally incorrectly listed the GP in their 30s in hospital with coronavirus as male.

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Dr Olaoluwa Joseph Ogunleye   7/08/2020 5:43:36 AM

It has being a great concern the government attitude towards provision of PPE for GP. It shows so much disconnection in the public health approach to the preparedness and management of this pandemic. If they are do nothing, they will continue to risk many more GP and the staffs at GP being exposed and leave the pandemic out of control. I am more worried about what may eventually happen in WA , eventhough it look like thing are under control at the moment, just as it is many places experience the lost of control of the spread.
I am calling on the government to make the supply of PPE to the GP as a frontline staff right away.