Chief Medical Officer COVID-19 update: 21 March

Brendan Murphy

21/03/2020 3:08:45 PM

Professor Brendan Murphy provides GPs with the latest information on Australia’s response to COVID-19.

Professor Brendan Murphy
Professor Brendan Murphy.

I want to again thank you for your ongoing commitment and dedication to ensuring all Australians receive the primary care services they need during this unprecedented time.
This update is designed to provide the latest information on our nation’s response to COVID-19.

GP webinar with Principal Medical Advisor
On Thursday 19 March, Principal Medical Advisor Professor Michael Kidd and Department of Veterans’ Affairs Chief Health Officer  Rear Admiral Dr Jennifer Firman conducted a webinar providing GPs with the latest information on COVID-19.
The webinar is now available for viewing with additional information on the topics discussed.

The next webinar for GPs will take place on Monday 23 March, at 1.00–1.30 pm. Please register, add to your calendars and test your streaming setup.  

Due to the number of wide-ranging questions, several select topics will be made available ahead of each webinar. Please encourage fellow GPs to join the discussion to ensure the most accurate and up-to-date information is shared with the community.

MBS telehealth items 
The Government is continuing to respond to the evolving conditions, making more telehealth items available. Since Friday 13 March, the Department of Health (DoH) has added more than 90 telehealth items to cover a range of services and providers, including GPs, midwives, mental health providers and specialists. Additional pathology items have also been added.
For many providers, the new MBS items will be the first time you or your practice offers telehealth services, so several important questions have understandably been raised. These include details about the new items, when they should be used, and the requirement for further information.
As a practitioner, you might find yourself needing to self-isolate because of a positive COVID-19 diagnosis or because of a requirement to self-isolate in accordance with home isolation guidance issued by the Australian Health Protection Principal Committee (AHPPC).
If you are well enough to work while in self-isolation, then a Medicare benefit is also available to you.
The DoH is currently producing extensive FAQs in relation to questions on telehealth items and will share them with you shortly.

As this is a continually evolving situation, I want to encourage all GPs to regularly visit the MBS Online website. You can also subscribe to future MBS updates by visiting MBS Online and clicking ‘Subscribe’.

If you are seeking advice in relation to Medicare billing, claiming, payments or obtaining a provider number, please contact Services Australia on the provider enquiry line: 13 21 50.

Update on personal protective equipment
The Government is undertaking a personal protective equipment (PPE) procurement program, led by Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt, investing $1.1 billion in the purchase of additional stocks, along with antibiotics and antivirals to help prevent the transmission of COVID-19. 
PPE is being rationed at every level of distribution as the world faces a global shortage due to the coronavirus pandemic, exacerbated by the bushfire crisis in Australia. However, the Government has been able to secure additional masks that will arrive by the end of April.
While the Government is working hard to source more supplies, it is important that we conserve the stocks we have so that we can respond no matter what happens overseas.
The highest priority of the Australian Government at this time is to ensure access to masks and other PPE for first responders, meaning people who have a high risk of close contact with individuals with suspected COVID-19, and the carers of people who are most at risk of severe disease if exposed, especially the frail elderly in residential aged care facilities.

Infection control training
The DoH’s infection control training module continues to act as a vital learning tool for workers across the sector, including health, aged care and disability. Since launching on Monday 16 March, more than 63,500 healthcare workers have completed the module, with the vast majority of completions in the aged care sector.
The module should take no longer than 30 minutes, and covers important topics including:

  • COVID-19 – what is it and who is most at risk?
  • signs and symptoms
  • keeping safe – protecting yourself and others
  • myth busting.
 All staff should be encouraged to undertake the training immediately if they have not already done so.

Medical students 
The advice from the Medical Deans Australia and New Zealand is that medical students have a valuable role to play and a requirement to continue their learning. Supervisors are encouraged to ensure students are not placed in high-stress and high-risk environments.

GP-led respiratory clinics
The first GP-led respiratory clinic will open in Sydney on Saturday 21 March, assessing, diagnosing and testing patients with mild-to-moderate fever and respiratory symptoms.

These clinics will ensure we can reserve hospitals for people who have severe symptoms. It will also help make sure that GPs can continue to see patients with non-respiratory symptoms, reducing the risk of cross-infection with COVID-19.

The Government plans to open up to 100 facilities over the next 4–6 weeks. Primary Health Networks have been engaging with GPs and local hospital districts to identify potential sites for clinics.

COVID-19 response resources
The DoH is continuing to provide a number of valuable fact sheets to assist you in your practice. A number of translated versions are also available for patients who require them. 
Fact sheets most relevant to you include:
  More fact sheets

Public health campaign – ‘Help stop the spread’
The Government’s ‘Help stop the spread’ public health campaign launched last Friday and a number of resources are now available for download, including videos, posters and radio ads.
Please download the posters to print in your office, and share videos across your social media channels to ensure patients in your clinic have been made aware of the best strategies to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in their local community.

chief medical officer coronavirus COVID-19

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