Date published: 
10 August 2020
Media type: 
Transcript
Audience: 
General public

ALLISON LANGDON:

Well more on the coronavirus crisis. The Deputy Chief Medical Officer, Dr Nick Coatsworth, joins us from Canberra. Doctor, thank you so much for your time. In the last hour we heard from a top doctor who had this to say about a shortage of face masks.

[Excerpt]

MUKESH HAIKERWAL:

I'm just tired. I'm not tired of doing the work. I'm not tired of looking after my people. I'm not tired of advocating for them. I'm tired because nobody is listening. What's happening is because we happen to have a funding line from Federal, they don't think we exist and it's got to stop. They have to work with the doctors. They have to work with the nurses.

[End of Excerpt]

ALLISON LANGDON:

It was a passionate plea this morning and I guess the question is, why aren't our frontline workers getting the support they need?

NICK COATSWORTH:

Well, I can hear the passion in Dr Haikerwal's voice, I can hear it clearly and it reflects the deep concern that we have for the 991 active healthcare worker cases in Victoria at the moment. With regard to PPE; this stock isn't sitting in warehouses - we've distributed 11.2 million N95 P2 respirators since the pandemic began to the states and territories. I talk on a nearly daily basis now with the Victorian DHHS about their PPE policy. I talk to frontline clinicians on a daily basis - we're not hearing that people aren't getting PPE on the frontline. the personal protective equipment is available and it's where it needs to be, at the frontline for our healthcare workers.

KARL STEFANOVIC:

So, that's confusing given that we heard from the doctor about an hour ago here on this the program, and you can hear the passion in the voice, you can hear the exasperation, you can hear the tiredness. So, is that not true? What he's saying?

NICK COATSWORTH:

Well, I think passion, exasperation and tiredness is- are all true because that's what health care workers, as a whole, are feeling down in Victoria at the moment. And it's concerning that there are 991 cases. But, infection control in hospitals and healthcare settings is a complicated business. To try to reduce this to suggesting that there is insufficient or somehow inadequate PPE is actually, Karl, misunderstanding the complexity of hospital infection control.

What we need is excellent data on how healthcare workers acquired their infections, that requires deep investigations. Investigations like the northwest regional Tasmania investigation which took many days, if not weeks, to take place. And I know that my colleagues in Victoria in healthcare facilities and within the DHHS are at this moment conducting such investigations to provide us more information about why these infections are occurring.

ALLISON LANGDON:

Are you suggesting that they're not being infected while at work?

NICK COATSWORTH:

Not at all. Not at all. What I'm suggesting is there are a variety of ways that someone can be infected at work - whether that's in the tea room, whether that's because the social distancing isn't taking place between colleagues, whether it's because of personal protective equipment - there are a variety of reasons. The importance is that we take those as a whole, we work out exactly why it's going on, and it'll be different from facility to facility. So, the more information we can get - these, these infections deserve thorough investigation. Of course the challenge at the moment - so when you've got between 50 to 100 new healthcare worker infections occurring, some of which could have been acquired at home, some of which will be in the workplace - we need to take a sample of those and investigate them thoroughly, that's how we're going to get the information we need.

KARL STEFANOVIC:

And the problem is, and you say and rightly so that that's complex to do all of that, but we need it done expeditiously because right now there are that many workers going into the frontline uncertain about how they're contracting it, about where the pitfalls are, about are they going to be safe from this virus while they're treating others who have it?

NICK COATSWORTH:

I completely agree; it's got to be done expeditiously. Let me give you an example how it was done two weeks ago and what that changed - the Chair of our Infection Control Expert Group, Lyn Gilbert; spoke directly to clinicians at one of the major hospitals in Melbourne where there was an unexpected case of COVID-19, amongst a staff member who was wearing what we termed then guidelines based PPE, or a surgical mask, gown and goggles. And as a result of that conversation the national guidelines have changed, the Victorian guidelines have changed to ensure that healthcare workers wear P2 or N95 respirators when they're caring for patients who are COVID positive or suspected cases.

So, we are listening, we've got clear demonstrations of how we're listening. I really respect Dr Haikerwal's opinion, we hear what he's saying; but I want to reassure Victorian healthcare workers and healthcare workers nationally, your voice is being heard - we have got your backs.

ALLISON LANGDON:

Are they safe?

NICK COATSWORTH:

Yes, they are safe when we use PPE in a correct sort of way, Alli, and we reduce the number of community cases. Remembering that the message has to be the healthcare worker infections won't happen when we get COVID under control, when we reduce the numbers. And so, this is something that we can all participate in, this is why Stage 4 restrictions are happening in Melbourne and greater- and Mitchell, and Stage 3 in Victoria - because we want to protect our healthcare workers. And so for those reasons, we need to get, need to all get behind this and get those numbers down.

KARL STEFANOVIC:

Well said, Doctor. It's great for you to talk through some of those very complicated and very passionate issues. We appreciate you always levelling with us and with our viewers, and our viewers appreciate it, and I'm sure the healthcare workers do as well. Thank you, Nick.

NICK COATSWORTH:

Thank you, Karl.

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