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06 Mar 2020

Dear AMA Members

I write to recognise the effort all in the medical profession are currently applying to responding to COVID-19, and preparing for its potential escalation. General Practice, Emergency Departments, Pathology Centres, ICU and ward staff, and Public Health Physicians are all at the front line of this evolving challenge.

In the last few days I have met with AMA members in Brisbane, Sydney, Melbourne, and Perth. I’m meeting members in other capital cities in coming days. I’ve received feedback from members both in person and by email, and many are feeling the pressure and uncertainty this virus presents.

Many Doctors have faced difficulty in obtaining accurate clinical guidance or access to sufficient Personal Protection Equipment (PPE). There is confusion and evidence of insufficient practical information. There are concerns about disruption to practice, potential loss of income, and worry that insurance may not instantly cover any possible practice disruption. There is similarly concern for practice staff, who are also uncertain about possible virus spread.

I am tomorrow once again meeting with the Commonwealth Chief Medical Officer and his Department of Health officials in Canberra. I will continue discussions the AMA has had underway with the Commonwealth about a General Practice telehealth MBS item number to treat potential COVID-19 patients, and I’ll progress ongoing discussions about practice payments to recognise extended effort and potential closure of consulting rooms involved in a patient’s COVID-19 screening or diagnosis.

I’ll also be outlining to Commonwealth Government officials the practical challenges many Doctors have reported to me about clogged advice phone lines; differing State, Territory, and Federal Governments' public health directives, and increasing concern of the public that is being raised by patients with their Doctors.

The AMA supports:

  • General Practice and Emergency Departments in requiring patients with potential COVID-19 symptoms to phone ahead prior to presentation, and for Doctors to screen such patients in accordance with clinical guidelines, but if appropriate to also collect patient swabs outdoors or outside of consulting rooms, or in external rooms to clinics where needed;
  • Urgent provision of sufficient PPE to ensure Doctors and all health professionals remain safe and able to treat patients;
  • Appropriate workplace arrangements for any medical staff to be supported through any leave that might be required through either virus quarantine or treatment;
  • Deeper monitoring of ongoing medicine and medical supplies to prevent possible disruption in continuous supply;
  • System readiness for Doctors to be able to administer a vaccine when one becomes available, to avoid repeat of historical challenges encountered through introduction of other vaccines;
  • The future need for a Communicable Disease Centre (CDC) to be established, to overcome challenges of how our Federated system of Government responds to disease spread.

I encourage all members to feel free to raise COVID-19 issues that require solutions with your AMA. Be assured tomorrow morning I will speak with passion on your behalf as I seek better responses from the Commonwealth to the medical profession’s concerns. I will also provide further information next week on progress with the Commonwealth about MBS items and better access to PPE.

Thank you for your patience as the Nation grapples with how to respond to COVID-19 escalation, and I look forward to keeping you informed of outcomes from AMA engagement with the Commonwealth.

Dr Tony Bartone
Federal AMA President


Published: 06 Mar 2020