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More funding could help reduce COVID test wait times: GP


Paul Hayes


4/01/2021 3:50:22 PM

With test wait times up to five hours, one Melbourne GP on the ground says better financial support would allow clinics to bring in more staff.

Queue for COVID-19 testing.
Some COVID-19 testing sites across Victoria have been struggling to keep up with demand. (Image: AAP)

Dr Mukesh Haikerwal understands the unpredictable nature of a pandemic. He knows no one can predict a sudden surge in cases, such as the one that led to people in Melbourne waiting hours in line to receive a COVID test in recent days.

The Melbourne GP does not want to assign blame. That does not mean, however, that he feels things could not have been done differently.
 
‘We couldn’t have predicted when there was going to be a surge, but we knew there was going to be [some sort of] surge because of the movement of the people during the holiday period,’ Dr Haikerwal said on RN Breakfast on Monday.
 
‘What would have been useful is learning the lessons that we’ve learnt already, work with the providers who are already out there doing the good work, provide a bit of additional support so they can actually stay open and stay open longer and provide those services.’
 
Speaking with newsGP, Dr Haikerwal, who established Victoria’s first GP respiratory clinic in late February, said the timing of increased demand for testing made it difficult for GPs to properly remunerate staff – even with existing state funding.
 
‘Although we get funded, it is not funding for holiday pay or public holidays and Saturdays and Sundays, when you’ve got to pay penalty rates,’ he said.
 
‘You’re just making even with the level of funding that’s provided, and you can’t afford to do that.
 
‘I can think of at least a dozen GPs that do their own testing without being a respiratory clinic. Because they’re trying to provide a service to patients, they should be supported, they should get PPE, and they should get a payment to help them continue that care – then you’d actually use services already available.’
 
Dr Haikerwal ultimately decided to bring in extra staff to cope with increased demand at his clinic.
 
‘We did it on our own, and as it happens we will see the repercussions of that when we look at the books at the end of the month,’ he said on RN Breakfast.
 
Victoria recorded three locally acquired cases on Monday, from 32,000 tests conducted on Sunday. With wait times at some testing sites blowing out to more than 4.5 hours by mid-morning, the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) began updating its website with projected wait times.
 
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