What Australia’s frontline workers need to wage war on virus


A free flu shot for every Australian, defence force help with medical evacuations and extra protective equipment are needed now to get Australia through the COVID-19 crisis.

News Corp has surveyed Australia's peak health groups and asked them for a list of the most urgent problems that need to be solved as our frontline heroes face their greatest test.

Today News Corp outlines the vital resources wanted by those waging war against coronavirus.

Karlee Robson is an infectious diseases nurse based at the Royal Melbourne Hospital. Picture: David Caird
Karlee Robson is an infectious diseases nurse based at the Royal Melbourne Hospital. Picture: David Caird

These include:

* free flu shots for every Australia in April to relieve pressure on public hospitals

* faster roll out of the 15 minute finger prick blood tests and for Australia to produce the test locally

* more personal protective equipment for doctors, especially in the bush, and disability workers

* more local manufacturing of masks, gloves and face shields

* Defence and private helicopter pilots on standby to evacuate COVID-19 patients in the bush

* the full roll out of the promised 100 national fever clinics

* private hospitals granted to access to the national stockpile of masks and gowns

* a back up workforce for rural towns with a single doctor, or nurse in case they contract COVID-19

* telecommunications companies to provide free mobile phone plans for doctors and nurses

* the penalty for not having health cover axed for those over the age of 31 for a year

* free parking at hospitals for doctors and nurses

* Coronavirus tests for everyone without restriction

* nurse practitioners not connected to a GP practice to get access to telehealth rebates

Dr Billy Stoupas has been testing patients in his carpark to ensure everyone gets good care. Picture: Tony Gough
Dr Billy Stoupas has been testing patients in his carpark to ensure everyone gets good care. Picture: Tony Gough

Aware the coronavirus outbreak was compounded in China because many patients contracted it as well as the influenza, the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners (RACGP) and the Australian Medical Association (AMA) are urging every Australian to get their flu shot as early as this month and for free.

"This year we really don't want the hospitals burdened by people with complications of influenza so you could make an argument for it to be free for everyone," RACGP president Dr Harry Nespolon said.

"It's more important this year than ever to get the flu vax from your GP. Doing so would see influenza hospital admissions both reduced and avoided to free up hospital capacity to cope with COVID-19," AMA Federal President Dr Tony Bartone said.


Getting your flu shot is more important than ever.
Getting your flu shot is more important than ever.


Rural hospitals don't have enough ventilators to cope with COVID-19 patients and the Rural Doctors Association (RDAA) want defence force and private plane and helicopter pilots on standby to evacuate patients to large regional towns or city hospitals.

"We do see a role for Defence as well as the repurposing of aircraft that is idle due to the significant reduction of domestic travel. Pilots are also available," the RDAA said.

Doctors have told News Corp they need more surgical masks and gowns especially in rural and regional towns but also more disinfectant wipes, face shields and even toilet paper manufactured locally and available immediately.

The Australian Private Hospitals Association said private hospitals which are expected to take on public patients and COVID-19 cases currently can't access personal protective equipment from the national stockpile.

"We're getting a lot of feedback from members in regional and rural areas who have run out of personal protective equipment of who have limited supplies," Rural Doctors Association of Australia CEO Peta Rutherford said.



The RACGP and the AMA are also calling out for more protective equipment.

The government had a stockpile of 21.5 million masks including 12.5 million P2 masks and 9 million surgical masks.

In January it released 3.5 million P2 masks for use fighting Australia's devastating bushfires.

Early in February it released another one million masks GPs to deal with COVID-19, while more than 260,000 masks were released to the aged care sector but National Disability Services said its workers caring for vulnerable Australians with a disability also needed protective equipment.

Early in March, Health Minister Greg Hunt said he had secured an additional 54 million face masks due to arrive at the end of April but countries around the world are struggling to get orders met as COVID-19 creates fierce competition for medical resources.

Shepparton medical mask manufacturer Med-Con is lifting production from 2 million to 50 million a year but can't access the raw materials it needs which have to come from overseas.

Detmold which makes containers for McDonalds and KFC has switched to making masks and is expected to produce 145 million in coming months.



Meanwhile, only a handful of the 100 federally-funded fever clinics to deal with COVID-19 testing demands have been established, leaving some GP's to run their own with limited protective gear.

The RDAA said a back-up workforce needs to be immediately allocated to one doctor rural towns ready to take over if the one rural GP gets COVID-19 or help out if there is an outbreak in a community.

Doctors and nurses working tirelessly on the frontline during COVID-19 should get access to free mobile phone plans to help them deal with new telehealth demands and keep in touch with loved ones, they should also get free parking at their place of work during the crisis.

The AMA and the Consumer's Health Forum wants COVID-19 testing ramped up.

"Test literally everyone without restriction and formally isolate all positive cases," the Consumers Health Forum said.

The Australian College of Nursing wants new telehealth item numbers to be extended to nurse practitioners, where the nurse isn't connected to a GP practice.

Consumer advocate CHOICE is calling on the Federal Government to suspend the tax penalty that applies if you don't have health cover after the age of 31 to save people who drop their health cover during the COVID-19 crisis from being punished financially in the future.

Originally published as What Australia's frontline workers need to wage war on virus