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

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

I’m sure you will join me in welcoming the Prime Minister’s announcement of a plan to ease Coronavirus restrictions, 3 Step Framework for a COVIDSafe Australia. Following Friday’s meeting of National Cabinet, individual state and territory governments will move along the steps in the framework in their own time based on local conditions. 

National Cabinet will regularly review progress so we can move forward safely and with confidence. Good hand and cough hygiene, physical distancing and staying home when at all unwell, are essential to the ongoing suppression of the virus.

Thank you for your extraordinary work providing support and care for your patients and your community. The work you have been doing to adapt your practice to the COVID-19 environment and to implement telehealth arrangements have been vital to maintaining the health and wellbeing of Australians. More than 8 million telehealth services have been delivered since March 13.

Since the COVIDSafe app launched just under two weeks ago, it has been downloaded by more than 5 million Australians. We need your support for this number to continue to grow. For detailed questions and answers, see our COVIDSafe app FAQs.

There has also been a significant increase in testing for COVID-19, with more than 750,000 tests completed. Despite this, we are still seeing outbreaks which serve as a warning to us all to remain vigilant and maintain physical distancing measures and protect the vulnerable members of our community.

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

1. Personal protection equipment update

On Thursday, Minister Hunt announced that 40 million masks from the National Medical Stockpile will be made available, on top of the over 34 million masks to date. The 40 million will include 35 million for our hospitals, 1.5 million additional masks for our aged care workers, and 3.5 million for our primary health care workers.

The allocation for primary health care workers is 2 million for general practices, 220,000 for respiratory clinics, 660,000 for pharmacy, 500,000 for allied health workers and 120,000 for Indigenous health workers.

GPs, community pharmacies, and Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisations should contact their Primary Health Network (PHN) to be supplied with masks. Further information on the distribution of PPE through PHNs for Tranche 4 is here.

PPE should be worn when caring for someone with a confirmed or suspected case of COVID-19. Wear a gown, mask, protective eyewear and gloves. Remove PPE before exiting the room or the person’s home. Wash or sanitise hands immediately after removing PPE. For further advice on using PPE, read:

2. The Essential Network supporting frontline health workers

A dedicated mental health and wellbeing e-health hub for our frontline health workers is now available. Part of the Australian Government’s $74 million mental health support package, The Essential Network – TEN – includes a new smartphone app to give health workers fast, easy access to evidence-based tools, resources, programs and specialists.

The app will be delivered as soon as possible and will be progressively updated every two weeks with new content and features, to provide a full and comprehensive network of services by mid-July.

An important part of TEN is a streamlined online referral process for telehealth consultations with specialist clinicians.

TEN is being led by the BlackDog Institute with This Way Up, Lifeline, Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists, Phoenix Australia, Hand-n-Hand Network, SAS, the Australian Psychological Society, Cogniss and the University of New South Wales.

These tools will be available at a touch of a button – a few minutes can be all we have to spare, but it may be all we need to take a breath, calm our minds or take the first step towards getting support.

Remember, help is always available if you need it. Beyond Blue’s dedicated Coronavirus mental wellbeing support line is there 24/7: 1800 512 348

3. COVIDSafe app update

The COVIDSafe app is a new public health tool, alongside testing and physical distancing, to help stop the spread of Coronavirus in Australia. It will keep Australians safe by speeding up the process of state and territory health officials identifying people who may have unknowingly been in close contact with someone who has been diagnosed with Coronavirus.

This means, once identified, people who may be infected can be treated faster and take steps to protect their family, friends and their community from possible infection. Being able to find and contain outbreaks quickly means governments can ease restrictions while still keeping Australians safe.

For troubleshooting and answers to questions, see the COVIDSafe help page or call 1800 020 080. There are COVIDSafe resources that you can download and share.

4. Telehealth embraced by Australians

New figures released by Medicare Services and Benefits show that for the first three months of this year, GPs provided 39.5 million services. The data includes the new telehealth items, introduced by the Government from mid-March, to reduce the spread of COVID-19 and ensure patients can make appointments with their health professionals while maintaining social distancing.

Between 13 and 31 March, more than one million GP telehealth services were provided. This highlights the readiness of Australians to use telehealth services during the pandemic, along with traditional face-to-face care.

The Government is also providing additional incentive payments to GP clinics to remain open for patients who need face-to-face consultations and assistance. This is an important consideration for patients with complex and chronic conditions, where telehealth is not preferred, or is not clinically appropriate.

5. Privacy checklist for telehealth services

The Department of Health has prepared a checklist to help you comply with your privacy obligations when delivering telehealth services. It provides high level privacy guidance and should not be relied upon as a substitute for your own legal or other advice. Download factsheet.

6. Flu vaccination update  

The Department of Health wants to remind health care workers to get the influenza vaccine. While the flu vaccine does not protect against COVID-19, if anyone becomes ill with both influenza and COVID-19 the situation can become very serious.

Aged care workers and all people entering aged care facilities are required to be vaccinated. Staff may experience fever as a side effect of the flu vaccination. As fever is also a symptom of COVID-19, we recommend that staff with fever be tested as a precaution.

7. Chronic health conditions and regular care

It is important to urge all people with chronic health conditions to not neglect their regular health care and to continue to see their medical health practitioner about the management of their conditions.

I would encourage you to reassure your patients that in most cases they should continue to access their usual care, which includes allied health services, and for general practitioners to continue to refer patients to allied health services as clinically appropriate.

Many allied health businesses are still operating during the COVID-19 pandemic. Some are using telehealth instead of face to face consultations. Most government programs have allied health telehealth subsidies available, including MBS items for Better Access, eating disorders management and Chronic Disease Management.

Some close contact therapy is continuing with strict Infection Prevention and Control (IPC) procedures. It is important, of course, for us as practitioners to adhere to the rules regarding business operations in our jurisdictions.

8. Update on disinfectants for use against COVID-19

The Therapeutic Goods Administration has put together a list of disinfectant products that have been entered into the Australian Register of Therapeutic Goods with specific claims against SARS-Cov-2 (COVID 19) or COVID-19 on the product label. View the list here.

Original source: https://mailchi.mp/health.gov.au/covid-19-update-for-gps-from-the-chief-medical-officer-xxxxxx-4420696?e=83862cc2c1

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

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