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How governments are helping frontline health workers

Victoria's frontline health workers will get access to free accommodation if they need to self-isolate. Photo: Getty
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Australians have never relied on frontline health workers more than today, yet medical staff are most at risk of contracting the coronavirus.

As the number of confirmed cases in Australia soared above 5500, Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews on Sunday addressed this paradox when he said the state government would spend $20 million on hotel rooms for healthcare workers who need to self-isolate.

Mr Andrews told reporters that up to 8000 hospital workers and paramedics will get access to free accommodation if they contract the virus or have unprotected contact with a person suspected of having it.

“This is exactly the right thing to do,” Mr Andrews said.

The announcement mirrored similar measures introduced by the South Australian and Tasmanian state governments – and came after a series of broader health measures listed below.

Victoria

In addition to the program announced on Sunday, the Victorian government has bolstered its health system by:

  • Ordering hundreds of millions of items of personal protective equipment
  • Prioritising healthcare workers for testing
  • Allocating $1.9 billion to securing more beds, more intensive care unit (ICU) equipment, and more PPE for frontline workers
  • Developing a centralised approach to procurement, distribution and management of critical medical equipment and consumables
  • Launching a website to help retired nurses and doctors rejoin the workforce.

New South Wales

As part of its $2.3 billion coronavirus stimulus package, the NSW government will spend $700 million on strengthening its health system.

It said this would:

  • Double the state’s ICU capacity
  • Boost testing capabilities
  • Buy more ventilators and medical equipment
  • Establish acute respiratory clinics
  • Bring forward elective surgeries to private hospitals.

Aside from the above package, NSW Health has partnered with the Australian Physiotherapy Association in training physiotherapists with previous intensive care experience to provide specialised care to patients with COVID-19.

Pharmacists also have extra powers to dispense medicines without a prescription and can now stay open 24 hours a day.

As for frontline workers in the state, they have called on their leaders to follow in Victoria’s footsteps and provide free accommodation to those who need to self-isolate away from their families.

The government has also urged retired nurses and doctors to rejoin the workforce if they are able to do so.

Queensland

The Queensland government has said it will invest $1.2 billion in increasing the capacity of its healthcare system to fight COVID-19.

It said the money would go towards the expansion of:

  • Fever clinics
  • Emergency department capacity
  • Acute care services
  • Regional aeromedical services for our remote communities.

Asked what the Queensland government was doing to protect its frontline healthcare workers, a spokesperson said it was making sure “our staff have the protective equipment and support they need each day so they can return safely back to their homes and families after each shift”.

They added: “Queensland Health meets regularly with staff and stakeholder representatives so that we can adapt and meet any emerging needs that arise.”

South Australia

Steven Marshall’s administration was the second state government to announce free accommodation for frontline health workers.

Announcing the measure on March 25, the state premier said the first rooms would be available within weeks.

SA Health has also opened dedicated COVID-19 clinics; established a mental health support line for those feeling overwhelmed by the crisis (1800 632 753); and reached an agreement with packaging company Detmold Group to produce surgical masks and respirators.

The South Australian company will provide an “uninterrupted supply” of respirators and 20 million masks a month from June.

The government is also trialling the use of vending machines to deliver PPE to frontline workers.

Western Australia

Similar to many other state and territory governments, Mark McGowan’s administration has set up dedicated fever clinics, initiated various recruitment drives, and scaled back elective surgery.

It has also made it easier for pharmacists to dispense prescription medicines (until May 31), and established a $3 million funding program to support COVID-related research.

“This new funding scheme will give WA researchers an opportunity to be part of global efforts to minimise the impacts of COVID-19,” WA health minister Roger Cook said of the scheme.

“At a time when there is still no specific treatment for COVID-19, WA patients and healthcare consumers will potentially have access to clinical trials.”

Among other things, the government has also expanded its testing criteria to include anyone who is showing signs of a fever and acute respiratory infection, and relaxed rules pertaining to the use of new and emerging treatments.

Tasmania

The Apple Isle was the first jurisdiction to ban interstate travel in a bid to contain the spread of the coronavirus.

It was also the first to offer emergency hotel accommodation to frontline workers who need to self-isolate away from vulnerable family members.

In addition to this, it has:

  • Increased its tele-health capacity to accommodate 5000 virtual appointment bookings
  • Established a new position within the department of health to source and manage PPE. So far the department has acquired an extra 6000 single-use gowns per month; more than 20,000 litres of hospital-grade hand sanitiser to arrive over the next few weeks; 91,000 surgical masks and 72,000 P2 masks from the National Medical Stockpile
  • Invested $1 million in the construction of 12 specialised clinics and drive-through screening/testing capabilities
  • Invested $5 million – as part of the state’s $985 million support and stimulus package – in the primary healthcare sector. Under the scheme, GPs and pharmacies will have access to grants to support the purchase of necessary equipment
  • Restricted visiting hours at certain hospitals
  • Allowed pharmacists to supply certain medicines without a prescription.

Australian Capital Territory

As part of its second economic rescue package, the ACT government announced it would spend roughly $23 million building a temporary hospital to deal with COVID-19.

In addition to this, it has:

Northern Territory

The NT is the only jurisdiction in Australia yet to record a case of community transmission.

But the state’s health authorities are far from complacent and have consequently announced the following measures:

  • Non-essential workers wanting to access a remote community must self-isolate for 14 days before doing so
  • Secured two weeks worth of PPE supply, in addition to 50 ICU beds with ventilators
  • Postponed elective surgeries
  • Trained nurses to move into ICU wards as and when required
  • Established a drive-through testing facility at Howard Springs
  • Restricted visiting hours at certain hospitals
  • Launched a dedicated coronavirus website
  • Set up a statewide phone line for people who need to get tested for COVID-19 (1800 008 002).