Chief Nursing and Midwifery Officer press conference on 12 May

Read the transcript of Chief Nursing and Midwifery Officer Alison McMillan's press conference on COVID-19 on 12 May 2020.

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ALISON MCMILLAN: I can tell you that as of this moment there are 6964 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Australia. That's 18 up on the last 24 hours, but I'm pleased to be able to say that 6229 people are now recovered from COVID-19, and we should remember that many- most people make a full recovery. We've seen almost five and a half million downloads of the COVIDSafe app, and we do encourage everyone to continue to download and register on that app, particularly as we relax the restrictions.

We've seen 877,000 tests conducted in Australia, which is a mammoth effort, and we are really appreciative of all of those people who are conducting those tests, whether in a laboratory or in a testing station wherever you might be. That's a really terrific effort, and we thank many Australians for presenting for those tests today and in previous days.

So our important message, as we see across the country, the relaxation of the restrictions, is what we don't want to see is a relaxation of all of that enormous effort that you've all made to ensure we keep Australians safe. So, remember as you begin to move around more and you get back to some of your normal activities, let's keep up that amazing effort that everyone has done. So, if there are any signs that you are sick, please, please stay at home and call your GP to see about getting tested. So important that we all know is that hand hygiene- so, remember to hygiene your hands before you eat, after you go to the toilet and certainly after you cough or sneeze. And really remember that this- that the surfaces you touch could be infected, so really important when you're touching things, make sure you're using those hand hygiene products regularly as you go about your business. And importantly as we move around, trying to maintain that 1.5 metre distance between ourselves and others. Now, I know that that's not always easy if you're on public transport or in the supermarket, so let's just be really respectful to each other and try to manoeuvre this so that we can keep each other safe, and that's what we're really looking for from everybody.

Now, today is 12 May and it is International Nurses Day. So, on behalf of all of nurses across Australia and, in fact, all health professionals, I'm asking you to continue the enormous effort you've made in keeping us safe, so that we don't see an increase in demand across our hospitals. We do know that we will see an increase in cases, but we want to keep that contained. So, it's your efforts that will make a difference to what we see in the coming weeks and how we manage that demand on our hospital system. So thank you for your efforts, and I do thank you again. Thank you.

I'm happy to take questions.

QUESTION: You've just mentioned the figures over the last 24 hours are very pleasing obviously, but 17 cases in Victoria. So how concerning is that number?

ALISON MCMILLAN: Look, we know that those cases in Victoria, the 17, are associated predominantly with an outbreak, and we will continue to see those figures. We are confident that Victoria are managing that outbreak well, and they will - as they have done an enormous effort increasing their testing in Victoria, they are seeing increased cases. But we're happy that while we are seeing increased numbers, it is associated with increased testing.

QUESTION: When you see an outbreak like that, and those kinds of numbers, what's your message about the potential for that to spread?

ALISON MCMILLAN: Well, what we're asking everyone is to continue to, as I've just said, follow the type of habits we've all formed, keep those up and we will prevent that spread from the type of outbreak we've seen. But I'm reminding everyone that we will see those outbreaks in certain places as we go ahead. That's the nature of this disease.

QUESTION: You mentioned the app, and the download numbers in Australia have plateaued over recent days. Do you think that that's a reality of this situation? Do you have anything further- are you [indistinct] to try and change the minds of people who haven't made the decision to download it?

ALISON MCMILLAN: We certainly want to encourage everyone with a mobile phone to download the app. Have a look at the advice we've provided on the website. I know some people have concerns about privacy, but we are doing everything to protect your privacy. It is a voluntary process, but the more people that download the app, the quicker we can- that the cabinet will have the confidence to be able to further expand those relaxation of restrictions that we've all had to live within the last few weeks.

QUESTION: We've seen some reports there is a shortage of the drugs needed to sedate patients who need to be ventilated. Is this accurate?

ALISON MCMILLAN: There's not a state wide - a national, sorry - shortage of these drugs. What we've found is there are many hospitals who have ordered additional supplies of these. Obviously they were planning for this pandemic and for a surge in intensive care patients. So what we may need to look at and we're already working on this is how we might redistribute some of those critical supplies to make them available to patients for elective surgery or there are potentially alternative drugs that can be used in elective surgery. So it is a consequence of the enormous and terrific effort that everyone made to prepare our intensive care system for the surge that fortunately we didn't see.

QUESTION: Does there need to be anything done on a government or policy level to make sure this doesn't happen again?

ALISON MCMILLAN: Well, I think that we're constantly working with the pharmaceutical companies and the pharmaceutical suppliers to ensure that we've got adequate supplies of a whole range of medications across and we'll continue to do that, and we work with the states and territories to make sure we've got good supply across the country.

QUESTION: And post the pandemic, should pharmacists still be able to issue scripts for those general medicines beyond just beyond this period of time?

ALISON MCMILLAN: I think we've learnt a great deal about how we can streamline our health system to make it really easy for patients to be able to access the services we need. So I think we've been able to at times move mountains that we might not have moved in the past. And I think there's some legacy things that we may well consider keeping. So I think the environment post COVID will be a different environment and definitely will be a more digitally based world which is good for patients if it makes it easy for them to go around doing their business.

QUESTION: But specifically on pharmacies, do you think that aspect, pharmacists being able to issue the scripts, that way it should continue?

ALISON MCMILLAN: I think that all of the things we've done will be reconsidered about a legacy into the future I can't say one or the other yet. It's probably too early to know whether or not pharmacists being able to prescribe will be a legacy or not.

QUESTION: And just in terms of the nurses who are skilling up to ICU level, have they all completed that skilling now and how might that benefit go beyond just the pandemic period?

ALISON MCMILLAN: So yes. There are a significant number of nurses. There were actually about 23,000 nurses who registered for the ICU high dependency training. At this point in time 27 per cent of those who commenced have completed both of the modules of the training. That training will be as valuable in the general ward setting as it would be if they were needed to be used in intensive care or high dependency. So we've got an even more highly trained nursing workforce out there today and those nurses will continue to complete that training which is online which is available to them to do self-paced training.

QUESTION: And just back on the app in terms of the numbers and how they are sort of flattening out, do you think there will have to be any change to the way the AHPPC is considering the different stages of lifting restrictions given less people than had been hoped are signing up?

ALISON MCMILLAN: It's not that less people than we'd hoped have signed up, it's as more people download the app, the AHPPC advice to National Cabinet, who are the decision makers, that National Cabinet will have that confidence that there is all of the safeguards in place, the ability to test, the hospital capacity and our ability to identify cases quickly, that we can see further decisions around relaxation of the restrictions. So these things come together, so the more people that download the app, the greater confidence National Cabinet will have to make these decisions into the future.

QUESTION: What would happen if we theoretically reached the peak of downloads for the app? What then, if nobody else is going to download the app, do the restrictions stay in place until, how long?

ALISON MCMILLAN: So the decisions about relaxing the restrictions are not based solely on the app. The app is a part of that strategy. If you remember we talked about over these weeks we have talked about our ability to test and track positive cases to prevent spread. The capacity of our hospital system to be able to respond, were we to see a surge and that app capability. So these things all come together so we can see and have confidence to relax the restrictions. But National Cabinet will take its time and it has taken a cautious approach to this at this point in time.

Thank you very much for your time.


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