The Australian Medical Association Limited and state AMA entities comply with the Privacy Act 1988. Please refer to the AMA Privacy Policy to understand our commitment to you and information on how we store and protect your data.



05 Mar 2020

Transcript:   AMA President, Dr Tony Bartone, ABC News 24, Evening News with Karina Carvalho and Andrew Geoghegan,  Wednesday, 4 March 2020

Subject:   Community transmission of COVID-19; protective equipment for frontline health workers; Medicare rebate for COVID-19 telehealth consultations

ANDREW GEOGHEGAN: Let's get more on the spread of the coronavirus within Australia. We're joined by President of the Australian Medical Association, Dr Tony Bartone.

Tony Bartone, welcome. Thanks very much for talking to us. Now we're seeing instances of community transmission of the virus. How concerning is it, that it's not known how this virus has been transmitted locally?

TONY BARTONE:  Good evening, Andrew, and thank you for your time tonight. Look, clearly it is a concern, but it has always been expected that there would be a potential of this happening right from the outset. But as the Chief Medical Officer has informed us today, once again there has been no sustained community transmission at this stage. Clearly, it is a real-time picture. It could evolve. But at this stage what the message is, to all Australians, is to take it seriously, take the impending potential for escalation as an opportunity to review and revisit your basic etiquette and health hygiene measures to ensure that you don't become an unwitting spreader or recipient of the virus if it is there in the community.

ANDREW GEOGHEGAN: Are you satisfied with the preventative measures in place at the moment?

TONY BARTONE:  So, clearly this has been an evolving picture, and it's been one where the information has had to keep up in real time with the evolving picture at the frontline. So, to the Australian public, there's been a continual messaging right from the beginning. And unfortunately, there has been a degree of panic and misinformation creep in, and that's seen unnecessary alarm and unnecessary panic buying, as we've seen on some of the images.

What we need to ensure is that if we've got a travel history, if we've travelled through any of those countries, the 78 countries or more where there have been cases reported, and we've got symptoms, we really need to self-isolate until we can make contact, initially by phone or whatever other measures, with the surgery, with the ED department, with the hotline, to see if we have truly got a potential suspect case, and then make sure that we get the testing required, ringing ahead and informing. Otherwise it's about ensuring that any symptomatology, any symptoms - runny nose, cold, coughs, sore throats, fevers - in this current climate, we really should be self-isolating ourselves from the community and practising simple measures to reduce the spread at this vulnerable time.

ANDREW GEOGHEGAN: It is a fine line, isn't it? On the one hand, we are worried that perhaps people are overreacting, on verge of panic, yet you still want community vigilance?

TONY BARTONE:  I know it's a fine line, you might say, but it's important. What we don't want is a serious opportunity for containment to be missed. Let me put it in a different way. If we can contain the escalation to the next phase for as long as possible, that will mean that any peak will be softer and milder and more prolonged down the line. It will give an opportunity to all the healthcare staff, and facilities, and people at the frontline trying to manage this, the opportunity to protect both themselves, the public and the community from the potential effects if the disease was allowed to spread unwittingly right through the community. And that's the message - we've got to be vigilant, be concerned, be respectful of others, and if we've got symptoms, we should be staying away from work. We shouldn't be engaging in the community at this time where anxiety is at a premium.

ANDREW GEOGHEGAN: Tony Bartone, I just wanted to raise that one case there of the doctor that was diagnosed with COVID-19 at Ryde Hospital in Sydney. That's had a knock-on effect for that hospital and its staff, because now there are 40 staff from the hospital who are being quarantined. That includes 13 doctors and 23 nurses. That's just one case. Are you concerned that if we have more instances like this, that this will put severe strain on the health system because the health staff will not be available - they'll be in quarantine?

TONY BARTONE:  And this is one of the many factors that goes into the response to this potential pandemic as it's evolving through our community. Our hospitals and our facilities, our GPs on the frontline, are all doing an amazing job and effort to try and keep the community safe during this time. But they're stretched. They are under the pump. And what we need to ensure is that we can minimise the load on them.

But as things escalate, we will obviously have to review the balance between resources dedicated to the COVID-19, as opposed to all the other activities that we expect our hospitals and our GPs to provide. We need to ensure that GPs in the frontline, as well as the ED doctors in our hospitals and all the other health care workers, are protected against any unwitting spread or exposure to the infection. We've seen what the knock-on of one can be, and we need to realise that absenteeism, because of enforced quarantine, is going to be a significant issue to deal with. And that's part of the plan to the response in the pandemic preparedness.

ANDREW GEOGHEGAN: You mentioned there, protection obviously is key as far as the people on the frontline are concerned, the doctors and the nurses. So, are you happy with the protection that they have available? Has it reached the point already where they would be required to wear masks and gloves and protect themselves in case of infection?

TONY BARTONE:  So, this is where it's really crucial that people with symptoms self-identify before they come into contact with those health care workers - with the doctors, with the nurses, with the reception staff at those facilities. And that's an important part of the messaging at the moment.

But clearly, we've got reports where the supply of protective equipment, especially in general practice, frontline, is patchy in terms of some have plenty and some don't have enough. And we really need to ensure that that real-time logistic supply becomes critically robust at this particular time to ensure that protection.

ANDREW GEOGHEGAN: And that brings up another point, a suggestion perhaps, that rather than people who suspect they may have the virus going to a hospital or a GP surgery, that the doctor goes to them so they're not at risk of, obviously, infecting more people?

TONY BARTONE:  In terms of a doctor going to them, that's tying up a valuable resource at this particularly crucial time. What is more effective, and what we've heard today in some of the discussion at Senate Estimates, is that the Government is seriously looking at a telehealth option, whereby we can help keep suspect patients, especially in the early phase who don't need any particular treatment other than symptomatic measures, to self-isolate at home and have that management conducted in the comfort of their own home; away from the community, away from busy waiting rooms, away from frontline doctors and healthcare staff. And thereby reducing the spread in the community, reducing the risk to the doctors and healthcare workers. And ultimately, allowing doctors to continue to do what they do best.

ANDREW GEOGHEGAN: Dr Tony Bartone, President of the Australian Medical Association, thanks very much.

TONY BARTONE:  My pleasure. Good evening.  

5 March 2020

CONTACT:        John Flannery             02 6270 5477 / 0419 494 761
                            Maria Hawthorne        02 6270 5478 / 0427 209 753

Follow the AMA Media on Twitter:
Follow the AMA President on Twitter:
Follow Australian Medicine on Twitter:
Like the AMA on Facebook

Published: 05 Mar 2020