Healthcare workers make up more than 15 per cent of Victoria's new coronavirus cases
y national medical reporter Sophie Scott and the Specialist Reporting Team's Mary Lloyd and Emily Clark
More than 15 per cent of new COVID-19 cases in Victoria are among healthcare workers and some doctors are sounding the alarm, saying the number is far too high.
The concern among some medical groups is that infection control in hospitals is inadequate and therefore leaving staff at risk.
Editor of the Medical Journal of Australia and world-leading gastroenterologist Nick Talley said it was clear current measures to protect healthcare workers were "insufficient".
The leading specialist said the public needed to know which hospitals were affected by outbreaks, in the same way schools and workplaces were identified as hotspots.
"The numbers suggest it is not a small number that has acquired this in hospital and that means a breakdown in infection control," Professor Talley said.
The Victorian Government is yet to release detailed information on COVID-19 cases among medical staff, but it has promised to do so.
Today, Victorian Health Minister Jenny Mikakos told a Public Accounts and Estimates committee it was "difficult to be that precise about the source of infection" among medical staff, but went some way to explain the situation.
While the exact figures have not yet been released, she told the hearing: "Roughly 10 to 15 per cent of those cases have been acquired in the workplace."
"Now we have got … very extensive community transmission at the moment, it is possible that people are bringing the virus into the workplace setting and colleagues are infecting other colleagues."
Today, Premier Daniel Andrews said every case of COVID-19 among healthcare workers was "of great concern".
"Each of those [is] motivating us to redouble our efforts right across the board to make sure that we're protecting those people — taking care of those people who take care of us," he said.
As cases climbed across the state, the number of infections among healthcare workers followed a similar pattern.
However, on four days over the past month, healthcare workers made up more than 30 per cent of new cases.
Some key numbers:
- There have so far been 1,185 cases of COVID-19 among healthcare workers in Victoria
- The latest Department of Health and Human Services figures show 1,097 of those cases are still active
- That means of the 331 cases diagnosed since yesterday, more than 15 per cent are among healthcare workers
For nearly four weeks, the number of healthcare workers in Victoria who have contracted COVID-19 has been included in the Government's daily update.
This is what the curve looks like:
And this is the healthcare worker curve compared to the curve of all COVID-19 cases in Victoria over the same period:
'If this was a factory, it would have been shut down'
One of the biggest concerns remains that healthcare workers in Victorian hospitals are not being supplied with adequate personal protective equipment.
On Monday, Mr Andrews said there were plenty of N95 masks in reserve, with more on the way.
The ABC has heard from several nurses and doctors who say advice from management at the front line is inconsistent and even though Victoria's guidelines recommend anyone dealing with suspected or confirmed cases of COVID-19 wear an N95 mask, that does not always happen.
Professor Talley said we needed to "step up" protection of healthcare workers.
David Berger, a GP and emergency medicine specialist working in Western Australia, called the current practices in many Australian hospitals a "grossly sub-par infection control regime".
"If this was a factory, it would have been shut down and we seem to tolerate it," he said.
"It's a f***ing emergency and they are not doing anything about it."
On several occasions, the Victorian Government has pointed out there are a number of healthcare workers who have acquired COVID-19 in the community — not at work.
"There'll be workers in healthcare who didn't get it anywhere near healthcare, they got it from a family member," Mr Andrews said.
Workers with COVID-19 should be WHS issue: doctor
As Dr Berger sees it, healthcare workers contracting coronavirus is being treated as a medical problem when it should be treated as a workplace health and safety issue.
He said sending staff to work when they were not confident they were adequately protected would have long-lasting effects.
The Australia Institute of Occupational Hygienists (AIOH), the peak body for professionals who assess and mitigate risk to employees' health in the workplace, wrote to federal Health Minister Greg Hunt saying it believed airborne transmission of coronavirus was likely to have contributed to the high rate of infections among Victorian healthcare workers.
AIOH president Andrew Orfanos said protection was a matter for workplace safety authorities such as Safework NSW or Worksafe Victoria.
"Where are the regulators in all this?" he said.
Recently, other groups, including the Australian Medical Association, called on the Federal Government to recommend all healthcare workers dealing with suspected and confirmed cases of COVID-19 be given N95 masks and for this standard be mandated in Victoria.
The post about “Healthcare workers make up more than 15 per cent of Victoria's new coronavirus cases" first appeared on the ABC Net website.
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