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COVID-19: GP Alert (1 April 2020)

April 01, 2020

COVID-19 Public Health Alert No. 8 - 31 March 2020

Queensland Health have released a new Public Health Alert outlining information about people in home quarantine who develop symptoms for assessment.

With the increasing number of people currently in quarantine related to travel history or contact with a confirmed case of COVID-19, it is likely that some of these people will develop symptoms suggestive of COVID-19.

If you have tested a person for COVID-19 and they do not need to go to hospital they must be placed in home isolation and follow the guidance regarding home isolation requirements.

If the test result for COVID-19 is negative, they must be informed that they are required to continue in home quarantine until the end date on their quarantine notice.

Read the full COVID-19 Public Health Alert No.8 (31 March 2020) here

Respiratory safety and COVID-19

The Thoracic Society of Australia & New Zealand and the Australian and New Zealand Society of Respiratory Science have provided advice recommending the suspension of lung function testing as a result of COVID-19.

Some respiratory therapies, including nebulisation, high flow oxygen, non-invasive ventilation, and the use of cough assist devices, can and do produce aerosols. In patients withSARS-CoV-2 these aerosols probably contain virus particles.The use of these therapies therefore poses a significant risk of transmission of viral infection to staff and patients.

While these therapies offer significant benefits to some patients, there are often viable alternative approaches to management that have less risk of transmitting viral infection. The overall risk can be mitigated by restricting the use of these high-risk therapies and using personal protective equipment (PPE). The Thoracic Society of Australia and New Zealand (TSANZ) and the Australian and New Zealand Society of Respiratory Science (ANZSRS) thus recommend the use of spacers rather than nebulisers wherever possible due to the potential for droplet spread.

Read the full letter of advice here

The Lung Foundation Australia has has been made aware of some inaccurate information circulating social media regarding “rescue packs” to be provided to people with asthma or Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) during the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak. This scheme is not available in Australia and people living with asthma or COPD unfortunately cannot receive a pack from a pharmacy, GP or hospital at this point.

Visit Lung Foundation Australia's website

The CDNA COVID-19 Guideline was updated on 26 March 2020 to include advice for ‘probable cases’ throughout the document. View the CDNA Guidelines here.

Accreditation of general practices

The Australian Commission on Safety and Quality in Health Care has confirmed that all general practice accreditation will be maintained during the COVID-19 pandemic, taking effect immediately.

In practical terms, there will be no accreditation visits, and practices will continue to receive Practice Incentive Program and Workforce Incentive Program funding. Practices do not have to ‘do’ something to enact the new arrangement, and do not have to notify their accreditation agency.

Temporary changes to Locum Tenens

In order to provide greater flexibility to health professionals responding to the COVID-19 situation, the Department of Health will extend the locum tenens period from two weeks to 12 weeks.

This extension is a temporary change to support the COVID-19 response, reducing the number of Medicare provider number applications and allowing faster processing of applications for health professionals who must have a Medicare provider number for each practice.

This means a health professional will be able to provide services at a new practice for a period of twelve weeks without making an application for a Medicare provider number, reducing the administrative burden and allowing health professionals to focus on providing care to patients.

The locum tenens are provisions in the Medicare Benefits Schedule (MBS) that allow eligible doctors and any other health professionals claiming Medicare benefits to use their existing provider number at a new practice if:

  • the period is less than two weeks; and
  • the health professional will be returning to the original practice.

To be eligible under the locum tenens a doctor must be either:

  • an Australian trained doctor who has fellowship of an Australian medical college; or
  • an overseas trained doctor who holds fellowship of an Australian medical college and has completed their 10 year moratorium; or
  • a doctor working in a hospital with a Medicare provider number to refer patients to a specialist or request diagnostic imaging or pathology only.

All other health professionals including allied health, optometrists with an Undertaking and dentists are eligible for this change.

Doctors who are not eligible under the locum tenens and must have a Medicare provider number for each practice include:

  • overseas trained doctors and foreign graduates of an accredited medical school subject to section 19AB, commonly known as the 10 year moratorium; and
  • doctors who do not hold fellowship of an Australian medical college participating in a workforce or training program (3GA program – e.g. Approved Medical Deputising Service Program (AMDS) or Australian General Practice Training Program (AGPT)); and
  • doctors who participate in one of the Other Medical Practitioner Programs (OMPs - e.g. the Rural Other Medical Practitioner Program (ROMPs), After Hours Other Medical Practitioner Program AHOMPs).

There has been no change to the health professionals eligible for the locum tenens. Restricted doctors who need a section 19AB exemption or a 3GA placement must still make an application for a section 19AB exemption or a placement. Participants in the OMPs programs are granted access to a higher Medicare rebate at a specific location. These Medicare provider numbers cannot be used at another practice because each new location must be assessed to determine if it is eligible for higher rebates under one of the OMPs programs.

We are currently operating in a rapidly changing environment. The Department of Health is continually reviewing our policy settings to support the health workforce and the Australian community. We will provide updated advice over the coming months.

Additional surgical and N95 masks now available

The Australian Government Department of Health is making additional surgical and N95 masks available to general practice/ACCHS and pharmacy in response to COVID-19. Masks will be distributed in accordance with the Distribution of PPE through PHNs: Tranche 2 guidance. Please visit our COVID-19 webpage for more information.