'SHAMBLES': Concerns raised over 'sudden shift' in Covid testing

·Assistant News Editor
·4-min read

Doctors have hit out at the sudden move to drop the requirement for PCR testing after the prime minister told the public to contact their GP if they test positive for Covid on a rapid home test. 

People who test positive on a rapid antigen test (RAT) will no longer have to get their results confirmed with a PCR test following changes made at Wednesday's national cabinet meeting.

"We're working on a system through our GPs and other processes for people to report whether they've got a positive test," Mr Morrison said Wednesday. 

But a number of doctors quickly took to social media saying there was no system in place and they were not consulted on the change, which would likely see them inundated.

"Yesterday's (Wednesday) announcement was this very sudden shift and GPs feel they haven't been supported enough and it isn't coordinated enough," Dr Chris Moy, vice president of the Australian Medical Association, says.

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison.
Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison has urged Australians who test positive on a RAT to contact their GP. Source: AAP

"The problem is at the moment, now because of the numbers and the magnitude of spread" previous arrangements with government support are "wholly inadequate", he told Yahoo News Australia. 

Dr Moy said more assistance is needed, including PPE supply and nursing staff to help manage and triage calls. 

"Health Direct took more than 25,000 calls yesterday," he said. 

"But the problem is they can't actually provide all the care ... We need to go through the symptoms and exactly what to do.

"We need longer telehealth calls."

Dr Kerryn Phelps, the former member for Wentworth and former AMA president, was among those who expressed criticism, calling the sudden move a "shambles". 

'Policy failure': Australia loses sight of the pandemic

Infectious disease experts, meanwhile, are worried Australia is about to lose sight of the amount of disease in the community. 

In the UK, rapid tests are quipped with a QR code for patients to upload their results and be recorded in official data, but no such system exists in Australia. 

University of Melbourne epidemiologist Professor Tony Blakely said Covid-19 surveillance would not be accurate going forward.

"The horse has bolted, I think this is the biggest policy failure so far in Australia," he told the Seven Network on Thursday.

"We also haven't thought about how you can load up that data to the surveillance system, so we won't get that in place in the next couple of weeks."

A rapid home test kit. Source: Getty
Rapid home test kits have been hard to come by in recent weeks. Source: Getty

The CEO of the Public Health Association of Australia, Professor Terry Slevin, says the country will lose a vital tool in dealing with the pandemic, but admitted pathology clinics couldn't keep up with demand.

"Having an accurate indication as to how common the virus is is a fundamentally important tool in dealing with the pandemic," he told the ABC Breakfast on Thursday. 

“But equally, we have to recognise that the system is being overrun and in the absence of a capacity to substantially increase the PCR testing regimes and the number that are available and can be processed within a reasonable period of time, then RAT tests are the next best thing."

Mr Morrison has been heavily criticised for not working to secure supply of home testing kits and making them freely available for Australians, declaring that "we can't go around making everything free". 

Prof Slevin said it didn't make sense, especially as Australians were now heavily reliant on them.

"It doesn't make sense in the context of a pandemic," he said. 

"This is not a consumer good. This is not a thing that people do for their entertainment or fun and dismissing it as being about peace of mind, I think underestimates the Australian population."

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