GPs urged to be ‘COVID safe’

Matt Woodley

10/08/2020 4:09:36 PM

Practices operating under stage four restrictions must have a plan to limit potential coronavirus exposure – and mitigate risks should it occur.

COVIDSafe Plan page
Information on creating a COVIDSafe Plan can be found on the Victorian Department of Health and Human Services website.

The requirement, in force across metropolitan Melbourne on the advice of Victorian Chief Health Officer Professor Brett Sutton, applies to all permitted work premises with five employees or more that are still able to operate under current coronavirus restrictions.
Each COVIDSafe Plan must include:

  • actions to help prevent the introduction of coronavirus in the workplace
  • the level of face-covering or personal protective equipment (PPE) required for employees
  • how a business will prepare for, and respond to, a suspected or confirmed case of coronavirus in the workplace.
The plan must also demonstrate how workplaces will meet all requirements set out by the Victorian Government, while onsite workers must also carry a permitted worker permit when travelling to or from work.
Dr Rob Hosking, Chair of the RACGP Expert Committee – Practice Technology and Management (REC–PTM), told newsGP the fact GPs are at increased risk of being exposed to the virus makes it especially important they have plans in place.
‘GPs are among the most likely in terms of healthcare workers to get infected if you look at sheer numbers, particularly in other countries where they haven’t had systems in place,’ he said.
‘Most practices I know of are trying to keep respiratory cases out of their practice so that is protecting us.
‘But, there is still a high chance that general practice will be the place where people will transmit it to a GP or to a receptionist or to a practice nurse, so everybody needs to be considered.’
Some of the measures for mitigating the risk of transmission include:
  • working from home and delivering telehealth where possible
  • keeping a record of all workers and visitors/patients who come into the general practice
  • familiarising the practice team with the plan
  • ensuring access to hand sanitiser at various locations in the practice
  • setting the air-conditioning for maximum airflow
  • providing training to staff on the use of PPE, including donning and doffing
  • minimising the sharing of equipment
  • increased cleaning in high-touch areas
  • marking the floor and practices spaces with tape to represent 1.5 m
  • reviewing deliveries to minimise the number of people onsite
  • keeping records of staff work hours
  • having a plan in place for notification if a staff member is unwell and a suspected case, who then becomes a confirmed case.
Other general requirements include, but are not limited to:
  • ensuring any workers who can work from home are able to do so
  • collecting records of all workers, subcontractors, customers and clients attending the work premises for 15 minutes or longer (certain exemptions will apply)
  • only allowing one worker per four square metres of enclosed workspace or in shared areas
  • ensuring workers do not work across multiple sites, or for multiple employers, unless an exemption applies
  • regularly cleaning facilities, shared spaces and providing additional cleaning supplies
  • undertaking risk assessments for cleaning and potential workplace closure of in certain situations.
The Victorian Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) has also produced an ‘Environmental cleaning and disinfection’ section within its COVID-19 infection control guidelines should it be required.
Aside from health and safety implications, Dr Hosking said a plan is also important for ensuring the ongoing viability of practices if there has been a patient or staff member present who later turns out to be COVID-positive.
‘People need to think about the business continuity for their practices, and the individual doctors who also want to be able to continue to earn income while working from home if they have to,’ he said.
‘Who needs to isolate amongst the staff and how they’re going to isolate? Are they going to work from home and do you have systems in place for them to work from home as well?
‘Obviously you function better if you have a clear plan rather than waiting to respond to something … [so] all of those things need to be considered.’
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