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[7 min read] COVID-19 Update for GPs: Prof Michael Kidd, Deputy Chief Medical Officer

Important coronavirus (COVID-19) update for GPs from Professor Michael Kidd, Deputy Chief Medical Officer, Department of Health

Australia continues to flatten the curve, with the daily number of new COVID-19 cases over the past week significantly lower than the previous week. The nation’s general practitioners continue to play an essential role in supporting Australia’s response to the pandemic and I thank you again for ensuring the safety and well-being of your patients and your community.

Late last week the testing criteria were expanded to include all people with symptoms of fever or an acute respiratory illness, no matter how mild. Please arrange testing for every person you see in person, or consult with using telehealth, who has symptoms which could indicate COVID-19.

In addition to increased testing, the Australian Government is committed to increased contact tracing. More than three million people have downloaded the COVIDSafe app. I encourage you to download and activate the app, and to encourage all your patients to do so too. Using the app will help protect us all. If you or your patients have any questions regarding the app, please go to the Department of Health website.

While restrictions are beginning to ease in some of our states and territories, many of our patients are suffering from the effects of social isolation. It is concerning that we are seeing an overall decrease in the number of people seeking mental health treatment at a time when we know that mental health concerns are increasing throughout the population. Please continue to reach out to your patients who you know require ongoing mental health support, but who may not be seeking treatment, and please be on the look-out for signs that your patients may be struggling and need our assistance.

Professor Michael Kidd AM
Deputy Chief Medical Officer & Principal Medical Advisor
Department of Health

1. COVID-19 testing expansion

Last Friday the National Cabinet agreed to expand testing criteria across Australia to all people with mild symptoms of COVID-19. To ensure cases are quickly identified, the expanded testing program will have an initial focus on testing anyone who has symptoms of fever or an acute respiratory illness, widespread testing of contacts of COVID-19 cases and selected cohort studies such as frontline health and aged care workers. Over 500,000 COVID-19 tests have been completed to date.

Expanded testing protects health care and essential workers on the front line, and ensures that health care systems remain strong and resilient to future challenges. The Government’s national aim is simple: suppress the virus, increase testing, improve tracing, and slowly ease the restrictions and allow Australians to get back to work.

2. COVIDSafe app launches

This app is part of our work to slow the spread of COVID-19. Having confidence we can find and contain outbreaks quickly will mean governments can ease restrictions while still keeping Australians safe.

The new COVIDSafe app is completely voluntary. Downloading the app is something you can do to protect you, your family and friends and save the lives of other Australians. The more Australians connect to the COVIDSafe app, the quicker we can find the virus. For detailed questions and answers about this app, see our COVIDSafe app FAQs.

We have also developed new COVIDSafe resources such as videos, posters and social media images that we would encourage you to share with your patients, staff and around your practice if possible. These resources will be updated on a regular basis in the coming weeks and months.

3. Update on GP-led respiratory clinics roll-out

The number of GP-led respiratory clinics in operation continues to grow, with 56 now open around the country. These respiratory clinics provide dedicated services to people with mild to moderate respiratory symptoms and/or fever. Thanks to all GPs who have established clinics so far and those that are finalising details with the Department. The plan is to have up to 100 operational in metropolitan, regional and rural areas across Australia.

These GP-led clinics are part of the 311 respiratory clinics operating nationally. There are also 230 state and territory fever clinics, and 29 ADF clinics (for ADF personnel).

The Australian Government has committed $206.7 million to establish 100 GP led Respiratory Clinics as part of the $2.4 billion health package to protect all Australians from COVID-19.

The purpose of the GP led Respiratory Clinics is to divert away from hospitals and general practices people with mild to moderate fever and/or respiratory symptoms (cough, sore throat, shortness of breath, tiredness). This is a vital part of the Government’s strategy to keep the health system functioning – help preserve hospitals for people with severe illness and support other general practices to continue seeing their regular patients. The clinics will be staffed by existing general practice doctors and nurses. Find the GP-led clinic near you.

4. Guidance for symptom monitoring in health and aged care workers

Guidance has been developed by the Communicable Disease Network of Australia (CDNA) and endorsed by the Australian Health Protection Principal Committee (AHPPC).

This guidance is intended for health and residential aged care settings considering monitoring for symptoms. Health screening for health and aged care workers for symptoms of COVID-19 in these settings may be used as one of a suite of measures to detect and prevent outbreaks. Read more.

5. Remote point of care testing program commences

The Australian Government recently announced a $3.3 million investment to establish a COVID-19 Remote Point of Care Testing Program for remote and rural Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities, allowing the rapid testing and identification of Coronavirus cases in isolated communities. This is a world-first primary health care COVID-19 response for remote communities.

Testing times will be cut from up to 10 days in places like the East Kimberly to 45 minutes using the new TGA-approved Xpert SARS-CoV-2 test. This rapid testing technology is able to detect COVID-19 infections at the point-of-care using a nasal swab PCR test in the acute phases of the illness.

83 testing sites will be in place, making immediate use of 33 existing Xpert testing platforms already operational in remote communities and an additional 50 testing platforms being deployed to the communities that need it the most.

This Remote Point of Care Testing Program is an initiative of the Kirby Institute in partnership with the Flinders University International Centre for Point of Care Testing. The Program has been developed in close consultation with Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Services and states and territories, who are actively involved in site selection and assessment to ensure no community is more than 2-3 hours drive from a testing facility.

6. Update on BreastScreening services

The ACT, Western Australia, South Australia and Queensland have recommenced BreastScreening services. Each jurisdiction has approached the recommencement differently and the situation is being reviewed regularly. More information on the status of services can be found at jurisdictions. Information for your patients about BreastScreening can be found at BreastScreen Australia.

Original source: https://mailchi.mp/health.gov.au/covid-19-update-for-gps-from-the-chief-medical-officer-xxxxxx-4412344?e=83862cc2c1

See last week’s update from Professor Michael Kidd here.

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