States to receive $1 billion in coronavirus funding

Matt Woodley

6/03/2020 4:08:34 PM

But uncertainty remains over GP access to more masks and new telehealth item numbers.

Map of Australia displaying coronavirus cases.
Australia has recorded at least 61 confirmed cases of the coronavirus.

While welcoming the Federal Government’s new agreement with the states to fund 50% of every coronavirus-related healthcare item inside and outside of hospitals, RACGP President Dr Harry Nespolon said it is past time for GPs to become a central part of the overall response to coronavirus.
The Government is reportedly still considering a temporary coronavirus telehealth item number for primary care, but Dr Nespolon has called for its immediate introduction.
‘The critical need for a Medicare rebate for telehealth consultations is one of our top priorities,’ he said.
‘This is essential to support safe and appropriate care for patients with suspected COVID-19 [coronavirus], patients at the practice, and GPs providing care. Without it, general practice simply won’t have the support required to deliver these critical services.
‘Central hotline numbers are all well and good, but many, if not most, patients will still pick up the phone and call their local GP in the first instance. What we need is a model that means GPs can help a whole lot more patients, and that will help to protect patients, GPs and other staff at practices, and allow for home quarantining.’
Prime Minister Scott Morrison made the funding announcement while a GP Roundtable in Canberra was simultaneously canvassing a range of measures designed to support frontline primary care workers battling to contain the coronavirus. 
Reports of GPs struggling to access appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE) have dominated recent coronavirus coverage, and the demand is likely to rise with new cases appearing at an accelerated rate.
The number of people infected with coronavirus in Australia has nearly doubled over the past week, and includes doctors as well as residents at an aged care facility.
At least 60 healthcare workers have been placed in self isolation as a result of being in close contact with one of the infected doctors, while there are grave fears over the health of several aged care residents exposed to the virus.
Australia has recorded two coronavirus-related deaths and cases have now been confirmed across the country. At the time of publication on Friday 6 March, states and territories had reported the following case numbers: 

  • New South Wales (26)
  • Queensland (13)
  • Victoria (10)
  • South Australia (7)
  • Western Australia (3)
  • Tasmania (1)
  • Northern Territory (1)
  • Australian Capital Territory (0) 

GPs have been consistently advocating telehealth as a way of assessing suspected cases without risking unnecessary exposure to healthcare workers and vulnerable patients, such as the elderly and those with co-morbidities. Such a system would also help reduce the burden on increasingly scarce PPE.
Dr Nespolon described GPs as a ‘fundamental part’ of Australia’s frontline defence against coronavirus, and said continued support from the Government will be ‘vital in the weeks and months ahead’.
‘I have long been saying that GPs need to be central to government planning processes for this outbreak – we are out there on the frontline, so we need to be front and centre in these discussions,’ he said.
‘While we welcome the Government engaging with us now and recognise the support they have given GPs so far, including releasing face masks from our medical stockpile, more is needed.
‘We need to take COVID-19 seriously. This is why it’s essential that general practice gets the support and resources it needs to ensure we have the best possible frontline defence against this virus.’
The global spread of the virus has accelerated dramatically in the past week, with World Health Organization figures showing there are now about 17 times as many new infections outside China as there are in it. The virus is present in 90 countries and territories around the world, with Italy, South Korea and Iran most affected.
More than 98,000 cases had been reported at the time of publication on Friday 6 March, including at least 3385 deaths. Nearly 55,700 people have recovered so far, while more than 6270 people remain in a serious or critical condition.
The RACGP has more information on coronavirus available on its website.
Log in below to join the conversation.

coronavirus COVID-19 GP Roundtable MBS Medicare telehealth

newsGP weekly poll Which public health issue will most significantly impact general practice in Australia in the next 10–20 years?

newsGP weekly poll Which public health issue will most significantly impact general practice in Australia in the next 10–20 years?



Login to comment

Dr Dave Jones, Perth, WA   8/03/2020 1:37:25 AM

I am seriously concerned about the conflicting information coming out about surgical masks. I was a medical student when SARS happened, and we were fitted with sealed masks which were leak tested. In this link:

in NSW and QLD, there has been advice that samples can be taken wearing a surgical mask as it is not deemed to be a risk of droplet infection. If I take a throat swab, with a few exceptions, most people gag and splutter during - a clear high risk of droplet infection thus, other than cost cutting/lack of availability of P2/N95 respirators, surgical masks represent a huge threat to taking out GPs when we are most needed.

For non-infected persons, wearing surgical masks offers no protection whatsoever. I highly doubt the evidence for this has markedly changed since SARS, Ebola etc. It's respirators or nothing.

If I'm missing something, please tell me!!!