WA doctors call for more community spread testing as COVID-19 restrictions lift
May 11, 2020
By Lauren Pilat
Western Australia’s leading medical association is again calling on the state government to remove restrictions limiting doctors’ abilities to test patients for COVID-19, as it further relaxes rules from May 18.
Australian Medical Association WA president Andrew Miller on Sunday welcomed the state's “balanced, well thought-through” four-phase plan and the week's delay that would allow a wait to see if more cases emerged.
But, he said, doctors needed more powers to test a wider proportion of the community to ensure those staged changes could remain.
WA was still testing at about half the rate of many European countries, around 21,000 tests per million people here.
This was less than the United States and United Kingdom rates.
And Dr Miller said while it was “assumed” there was no community spread, at the moment doctors couldn't order tests for asymptomatic patients who didn’t fit the screening criteria.
They could not screen patients at mental healthcare facilities unless they had cold or symptoms.
“Those kinds of situations doctors would like to test and also atypical symptoms ... sometimes people turn up with chest pain or with tummy troubles, those sort of things, and the doctor thinks ‘this isn't quite right, I’d just like to rule out COVID’, we're not allowed to do that right now and it doesn't make sense to us to be honest,” he said.
“We call again upon the government to let doctors use their judgment, remove the restrictions that are on doctors at the moment around testing because the doctors know the community best.
“They need to be able to test in all circumstances where they think it's appropriate to protect the practices, the patients, and to give the community a true idea that there is no community spread.
Dr Miller said it was important that the momentum in easing restrictions did not ovveride the ability to reverse the moves in case of an outbreak.
“It’s a 50/50 as to whether we're going to get through this without having to step back,” he said.
“I think what we've all come to understand is that economic damage will be a lot worse if we have a lot of disease, and a lot of deaths.
“The best way to solve the economic problems caused by coronavirus is to fix the health problem first.”
Dr Miller said the only way to do that was through wider testing on top of the state government’s Detect program.
“We're all really hoping that the wider testing when we get it will tell us that the disease just isn't out there bubbling along in a nice asymptomatic way through the community, but in Victoria it popped up in an abattoir in New Zealand, it popped up in a school,” he said.
“So, we would be naive to think that it's impossible for that to happen and we really want the reassurance of a lot more tests.
“The hospitals are ready to deal with a significant number of patients now, including in the private sector, but they're not ready so that we can let people get sick and die by not doing the right thing in our community.”
With just one new case in almost two weeks, Dr Miller said the low numbers had given people confidence but that the next few weeks would be the telling time as to whether 'Phase 2' changes were appropriate.
“We need to be very paranoid, we need to keep Western Australia at the top of the leaderboard,” he said.
“We need to remain the best in the world because that's going to be so good for our economic bounce in terms of not only confidence, but [attracting] people [from] overseas.
“That's going to be so good for us coming out of this, that we have to maintain our position and reduce the human cost of the whole thing is the number one priority.”
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