Queensland relaxes border restrictions for healthcare access

Matt Woodley

21/08/2020 3:29:30 PM

Patients outside designated ‘border bubbles’ will have more access to medical care without having to undergo a two-week quarantine.

Busy border crossing
GPs have reported lengthy waits to receive exemptions to cross the border, despite performing essential medical activities. (Image: AAP)

Prime Minister Scott Morrison revealed the relaxation following discussions at Friday’s National Cabinet meeting, which came after original restrictions had been criticised for effectively denying some New South Wales residents access to specialist medical care.
‘I welcome the decisions by the Queensland Government made as we went into this meeting and overnight, which has eased restrictions for accessing health services for people who are coming out of hotspots and also expanding the border zones and additional post code areas,’ he said.
Prime Minister Morrison also announced the Australian Health Protection Principal Committee (AHPPC) would attempt to create a uniform definition of what constitutes a COVID hotspot in order to provide more clarity on border decisions.
‘When you have restrictions that are being placed on people’s movement in the country based on what is and what is not a hotspot, there needs to be a clear medical and scientific definition of what that is,’ he said.
‘These decisions cannot be made on an arbitrary basis and I’m not suggesting they are. I’m just saying and it was agreed today that we are going to ask once again … to get a clear definition of what constitutes a hotspot.’
The Queensland restrictions, in place since 8 August and first relaxed earlier in the week, have applied to entrants living in coronavirus hotspots of Victoria, New South Wales and the ACT.
People from those communities hoping to cross the border are required to undergo two weeks of hotel quarantine at their own expense, with exemptions typically only granted to those needed border to perform essential activity.
Aside from patients, many GPs and other medical specialists live in Queensland and cross into northern New South Wales for work, and vice-versa.
Despite performing essential medical activities, they have reported lengthy waits to receive exemptions to cross the border, which RACGP Queensland Chair Dr Bruce Willett said is a serious problem.
‘This is necessarily affecting the provision of health services to patients on both sides of the border, particularly in New South Wales,’ Dr Willett said.
‘[But] we need to ensure patients have access to essential health services on either side of the border while these measures are in place to stop the spread of COVID-19.’
Dr Willett said job-swapping arrangements should be facilitated where possible, and added that practices should also make use of telehealth appointments for patients who do not need an in-person consultation.
‘The RACGP advocated strongly for subsidised telehealth appointments to increase access to healthcare – they work perfectly well for a range of consultations, and can help ensure patients still receive ongoing quality care,’ he said.
‘In circumstances where essential services are not available, exemptions need to be provided to GPs and other healthcare workers to enable those services to continue.
‘Exemptions that are necessary to allow essential health services to continue need to be provided in a timely fashion.
‘The process of reviewing applications for exemptions needs to be efficient. The last thing we want is patients missing out on essential care because they can’t access health services. Health workers’ applications should be expedited.’
With border restrictions likely to be in place for months, the RACGP has developed a letter template to assist GPs who need to cross borders for work.
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