Healthcare workers are the most valuable resource Australia has in our response to the COVID-19 pandemic, and their health and wellbeing is paramount. Every person has the right to go to work feeling safe and protected. The recent statistics released by the Victorian Government regarding healthcare worker infections are very concerning and require a strong response from all parties. Excluding cases where investigations are still ongoing, 86 per cent of all healthcare worker infections in the Victorian second wave have been determined as likely to have been acquired at work. This is a problem across all aspects of the workforce, not least aged care workers, nurses, and doctors.
We have a collective responsibility to do better to protect our healthcare workers.
Avant firmly believes that action should be taken in the following areas to improve healthcare worker health and wellbeing. We will continue to advocate for these causes:
Personal Protective Equipment
Current guidelines on personal protective equipment (PPE) for healthcare workers should be derived from the best available international evidence on SARS-CoV-2 transmission. Within Australia, interpretation of this evidence should be consistent. As such, Avant advocates for consistency between federal and state guidelines on the recommended use of PPE for healthcare workers interacting with patients with suspected or confirmed COVID-19 infection.
Avant advocates for the provision of fit testing to all healthcare workers for whom guidelines advise airborne precautions (in practice this will predominantly be use of N95 or P2 respirators).
Avant also recognises the need for alternative forms of PPE to be made available when fit testing fails, and when the individual is required to continue to work in the environment requiring adoption of airborne precautions.
Workers compensation and other insurance for health care workers
Only 6% of investigated healthcare worker infections in the Victorian second wave have been demonstrated not to be healthcare acquired. Avant calls for COVID-19 to be deemed a workplace-acquired infection the purposes of worker’s compensation in states and territories for any healthcare worker who contracts COVID-19.
Avant supports and calls for the current COVID-19 Medicare Benefits Schedule items to be extended beyond 30 September 2020.
We believe this is imperative given the ongoing considerable outbreaks of COVID-19 in Australian communities. In this setting, telehealth has been an invaluable resource for safeguarding the health of both patients and clinicians.
Standard of care during the pandemic
Ahpra and the Medical Board have acknowledged that during a pandemic “there may be a need for practitioners to adjust established procedures to provide appropriate care to patients.”
We support the position of Ahpra and the Medical Board of Australia that if a concern is raised about a practitioner’s decisions and actions, the specific facts will be considered, including the factors relevant to their working environment, and that they will take account of any relevant information about resources, guidelines or protocols in place at the time.
Practitioners are an important and precious resource and should not be disciplined for taking steps to reduce the risk of COVID-19 transmission.