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Doorstop – Opening of Gold Coast COVID-19 Clinic

22 April 2020

Subject: Gold Coast COVID clinic opening, PPE, Virgin Australia and China


Minister for Industry, Science and Technology Karen Andrews held a doorstop with Gold Coast Primary Health Network Chair Dr Roger Halliwell and HMS Medical Group Medical Director Mark Spanner.

Karen Andrews: Well, good morning. It's an absolute pleasure to be here this morning for the opening of the very first pop-up centre to test for COVID-19 here on the Gold Coast. We have been very fortunate through a lot of hard work by many people that we have had some good results with flattening of the curve, but there is still a lot of work that needs to be done. We are very conscious that here on the Gold Coast there have been a number of cases reported and we need to make sure that we have in place the appropriate testing mechanisms.

The Commonwealth Government has funded 100 pop up clinics right across Australia and this one is the first to open here on the Gold Coast. What we are doing is encouraging people who have a cold, a sore throat, a cough to actually come to a clinic such as this, to call ahead or book, make an appointment, come to this clinic or another pop-up clinic soon to be opened on the Gold Coast so that you can be assessed and if necessary tested for COVID-19. By doing this it's certainly going to relieve the pressure on testing facilities at Gold Coast Hospital and at Robina. And it's also going to go a long way to making sure our general practitioners are kept safe so that they will be able to deal with the normal cases that they deal with, and particular respiratory issues will be able to come here to this clinic.

So, it's great that we have the first pop-up clinic opening here on the Gold Coast. Now, I’ll invite the chair of the Gold Coast PHN, Dr Roger Halliwell, to say a few words.

Roger Halliwell – Chair of GC Primary Health Network: Thanks Karen. So, the Gold Coast PHN has been tasked by the Commonwealth, amongst other things, to facilitate the set up of this clinic and the other three that will be coming fairly soon. It's been a real team effort involving people travelling from around the country, assessing systems, making sure that the staff know how to put on their personal protective equipment, how to do the assessments, and then a follow up plan for each and every patient so that if they run into trouble then they know what to do. Most patients who get COVID-19 won’t need to be admitted to hospital and so this will help identify those individuals and hopefully keep them safe in their homes so that they can recover and move on to the next project.

Question: What's the difference between the respiratory pop-up clinics versus the fever clinics in the hospitals?

Roger Halliwell: The fever clinics in the hospitals, which have been running for a few weeks now, specifically follow an algorithm to determine who gets a COVID test. They don't do a clinical assessment to the degree we would expect to be done in the community here, and they don't normally give much of a management plan either - it's really about simply testing, who gets tested and who doesn't.

This clinic is quite different in that it takes all comers with respiratory symptoms and/or a fever and gives them a proper assessment, a diagnosis, a management plan and they may get a COVID test as well.

Question: All Gold Coast residents now are able to get tested if they think they’ve got symptoms. Why would they go to a pop-up clinic versus the hospital?

Roger Halliwell: Well, I think one of the issues that we've heard about with the fever clinics at the hospitals is that they don't have appointments and so people can go and wait two, sometimes three hours to get in the door. There's a concern about the physical distancing issue with that as well.

With the community based respiratory clinics, patients will need an appointment to attend - that can be done by telephone, or through the national HotDoc site, and they'll be directed, based on their post code, to the nearest respiratory clinic. So the clinic here has no waiting room. Patients will arrive and pretty much go straight through a fairly prescriptive process that will be efficient and will identify patients in the community with COVID.

Question: Can you run us through the process? So what happens if a patient rocked up here, they think they’ve got coronavirus?

Roger Halliwell: Actually, I think we should ask Dr Spanner to describe that - he's the one who set it up. Mark?

Mark Spanner – Medical Director, HMS Medical Group: Alright. So basically a patient, as you said, we have encouraged them to make a appointment either online through a HotDoc. The patients would [indistinct] and they would be requested to register at the front desk, they would wait in their car. And then when they are called for- they will get the telephone call or a text to come inside, into one of the consulting rooms. Patients would be given a mask so everyone is safe. The staff would all be wearing protective personal equipment. So we'll manage them and treat them, and take their history, examination and, if necessary, take a swab; have a management plan and follow them up with their results [indistinct].

Question: How much do the tests cost per person?

Mark Spanner: Well this is being funded by the Federal Government, so- and [indistinct]. So basically, there’s no cost to the patient.

Question: How does this differ to the normal GP’s surgery?

Mark Spanner: Well, the function of us opening the respiratory clinic is very important because I also, of course, am a principal of two other practices on the coast. We don't want people with COVID coming in and sitting with other patients who are vulnerable because that’s a recipe for disaster. So our function is to make sure that people with respiratory symptoms and fevers stay away from the GP practices, come in, see us quickly, get sorted out. And then once we know they're safe they can go back to their general practitioner and have their problems sorted out.

Question: Where do the test kits come from?

Mark Spanner: The test kits are coming from [indistinct] companies [inaudible]…

Question: Karen, these have been in the works for quite a while. How come it's taken so long for us to see the first one?

Karen Andrews: Well, there’s- now, I will actually ask Dr Halliwell to make a few comments but can I say that we all have been working this out for some time. But here on the coast we already have in place fever clinics at the Gold Coast University Hospital and also at Robina. So this is just something that [indistinct] and I’ll ask Dr Halliwell to add some further detail.

Roger Halliwell: We're very excited to have the respiratory clinics finally up and running. It's taken everyone longer than we had hoped and there are some logistics issues around that - accreditation of each facility has to occur, obviously training of all staff as to how to put on and take off their PPE safely, systems to record patients details as they arrive. A whole lot of different things, a whole fit out has had to be done here. So, there are some- a number of things that have led to that. The great news is we’ve nailed all that; tomorrow’s the day.

Question: A lot of GP’s we’ve spoken to throughout this have said that they’re happy now to get PPE to the standards to be able to do the testing. You know, is there a shortage of PPE?

Roger Halliwell: PPE’s been a big question in Australia, in fact around the world, for several weeks now. The short answer is that we do believe we do have the PPE we need, sometimes there are delays in getting it to the place where it actually is needed. These guys have got PPE gear to keep them going for some time and that’s good - it’s not stored onsite of course because we don’t want it disappearing. But the PPE issue is something that we're getting a much better handle on, millions of masks arrived last week, lots of other gear’s coming in, the Commonwealth is coordinating the ordering, the seeking of that and the distribution.

Question: Just on those other two clinics opening on the coast, where will those be?

Roger Halliwell: In the northern part of the Gold Coast and one in western – I can’t give you the details at the moment because they haven’t been accredited.

Question: A few more questions for Karen if that’s alright, from Canberra? China has criticised Peter Dutton for calling for greater transparency around the origins of coronavirus, is that fair?

Karen Andrews: Look, I understand the comments that Peter Dutton has made in relation to transparency. And what I would add to that is that as we search for an adequate response to COVID, in terms of the treatment and particularly a vaccine, it's important that as much information as possible is made available. So, I would call on all nations to be very transparent and very open about the information that they have, including the source of the COVID-19. It’s very important if we are going to be able to react to that appropriately, not just in Australia but globally.

Question: Do you think China specifically though needs to be more open about its handling of the virus?

Karen Andrews: Well, we do know that China has played a very key role and it would be very, very greatly appreciated if China was prepared, willing and able to share with Australia and with other nations, all of the information that it has, particularly in relation to where the virus was first diagnosed, first tested for and first treated.

Question: Just on Virgin, should the Government be doing something to- I mean the consumers will ultimately be the- they’ll suffer if there's an airline monopoly. Should the Government be doing more to stop the collapse of Virgin?

Karen Andrews: We are very concerned for all of the staff in particular that are working at Virgin and have been potentially greatly affected by this. But what's important is that this is administration, this is actively looking at a way out of the financial difficulties in which Virgin has found itself. It’s not liquidation, so we remain confident that there will be a good and positive outcome for Virgin. It has five major shareholders across the world, own 90 per cent of Virgin. They’ve had every opportunity to stand up, step in for Virgin and help support it. So, we would be calling on them to look at the actions that they can take to support Virgin here in Australia. Of course, we're aware that there are many other options that would be available, potential buyouts by other interested parties - that work needs to continue. The Federal Government has done a lot to support aviation and to make sure that we are working with freight carriers to make sure that we are providing the services. There have been recent announcement of supports for particular flights. That work is ongoing and continues to support the airline industry. I think Virgin needs to now concentrate on how it’s going to resolve the issues in which it finds itself and to look for opportunities to do so.

Question: I mean, your electorate obviously on the Gold Coast, it's a city that relies so much on tourism and having the two major airlines here - surely it's in the Government's interest to help them out more than they are?

Karen Andrews: Well, tourism is a major issue for us here on the Gold Coast, it also is a key export for Australia as well, so we are very conscious of the impact of the difficulties that Virgin [indistinct] has on our broader economy. Locally here on the Gold Coast, yes of course we would like flights to resume as soon as possible – we’ll be taking health advice as to when that can happen. And yes, we would like two airlines to be in a position to compete to get tourists back in here to the Gold Coast, that's why we would encourage Virgin stakeholders and potential other buyers to watch closely at what Virgin has to offer - it had 30 per cent market share, it is well-established, it's not a start-up, it's actually in a good position in terms of the routes that it has been flying. So, I think it's now up to Virgin and its stakeholders and potential buyers to look at the opportunities.