Coronavirus (COVID-19) advice for the health and aged care sector

We are providing up-to-date and authoritative information and advice on COVID-19 for the health and aged care sector.

Public Health Unit guidelines

The COVID-19 National Guidelines for Public Health Units provides interim recommendations on:

  • surveillance
  • infection control
  • laboratory testing
  • contact management

The Communicable Diseases Network Australia (CDNA) updates these guidelines regularly.

Temporary telehealth Medicare Benefits Schedule (MBS) items

The Australian Government has added a number of temporary bulk billing items to help you deliver telehealth services to people who are self-isolating or vulnerable.

Doctors, nurses and mental health professionals can deliver bulk-billed services via telehealth until 30 September 2020 via phone or video conferencing.

Learn more about Temporary Telehealth Bulk-Billed Items for COVID-19 at MBS Online.

Electronic prescribing

We are working with doctor and pharmacy software providers to upgrade clinical software so that it supports electronic prescribing. We expect this to be ready by May 2020.

For now, doctors still create a legal, paper prescription during a telehealth consultation. They can then create a separate digital image of each prescription. This can be a photo or PDF that is clear enough to allow any barcode to be scanned.

Doctors then ask the patient where they would like the copy of the prescription sent (by text, email or fax) either to:

  • the patient, who then sends to their chosen pharmacy
  • the patient’s pharmacist

Either way, the doctor must also send the pharmacy the paper copy of the prescription within 15 days of the drug being supplied.

Pharmacies filling scripts provided during telehealth consultations should contact the doctor to make sure they send the paper script.

Patients with existing paper prescriptions or repeats can create a photo or PDF and send to their pharmacy. Patients must send the paper copy to the pharmacy within 15 days of the pharmacy supplying the medicine.

Patients do not have to sign the prescription once the medication has been dispensed. We have relaxed this requirement as long as the telehealth measure lasts. All other compliance requirements have not changed.

Schedule 8 and 4(D) medicines such as opioids and Fentanyl are not part of this interim arrangement. Existing prescribing and dispensing arrangements apply.

Support for pharmacies providing home delivery of prescription medications

We are working with pharmacies to support home delivery of Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme and Repatriation Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme medicines to those unable to get to their local pharmacy.

Learn more about the Home Medicines Service and how to take part from the Pharmacy Programs Administrator.

Using personal protective equipment (PPE)

For advice on using PPE, read:

The highest priority of the Government is to ensure access to masks and other PPE for front line acute health service and primary care staff. This includes:

  • public hospitals (supporting the states and territories), general practices, community pharmacies, and other settings where people are most likely to be presenting with COVID-19
  • residential aged care facilities in the event of an outbreak

GPs, community pharmacies, and Aboriginal Community
Controlled Health Organisations

GPs, community pharmacies, and Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisations should contact their Primary Health Network (PHN) to be supplied with masks. The PHN locator map can be found here.

Residential aged care providers

Residential aged care providers can request PPE by sending an email to agedcareCOVIDPPE [at] health.gov.au

The Department will assess requests and may be in contact if additional information is required. Providers will be advised if their request has been successful. If so, state and territory governments will distribute the agreed PPE to the provider. 

Priority will be given to aged care providers where there has been a confirmed case of COVID-19.

No other groups are currently being supplied with masks. The Department of Health is working to ensure supply of masks and other PPE. This page will be updated as more stocks of PPE are secured. Please continue to check the website regularly for updates.

Everyone seeking access to masks and other PPE from the National Medical Stockpile should continue attempts to purchase through commercial means.

When you can and cannot work

Like others, health and aged care workers need to isolate themselves for 14 days after:

  • returning from overseas
  • being in close contact with someone confirmed to have COVID-19

Let your employer know if you need to self-isolate. Depending on the type of work you do and if you are well, your employer may discuss other arrangements such as work from home.

Health care workers

You can still go to work if you have:

  • had casual contact with COVID-19 cases and are well
  • directly cared for confirmed cases while using PPE properly

Monitor yourself for symptoms and self-isolate if you become unwell.

Aged care workers

For aged care workers, these rules also apply:

  • from 1 May, you must have your influenza vaccination to work in or visit an aged care facility
  • if you’re a residential aged care worker, you must not go to work if you have a fever or symptoms of a respiratory illness

When you should be tested

It’s important to detect COVID-19 in health and aged care workers early.

If you provide direct care, you should be tested if any of the below apply:

What employers should do

As an employer, you should brief all staff on how to prevent the spread of COVID-19. This includes your contract staff and domestic and cleaning staff.

Tell them to:

  • isolate themselves for 14 days after returning from overseas or being in close contact with a confirmed caste
  • let you know if they develop symptoms during the isolation period, especially if they have been in the workplace

Public health authorities may contact you if a staff member is confirmed to have coronavirus.

Residential aged care services must also ask their staff to provide details of their health status before entering the facility. This helps to protect our most vulnerable community members.

Impact on services

If self-isolation of staff is seriously affecting your service, you can conduct an individual risk assessment. You should conduct this with your local Public Health Unit.

Cleaning in the workplace

Minimise the risk of being infected with coronavirus by:

  • wearing gloves
  • using alcohol-based hand sanitiser before and after wearing gloves

If cleaning areas that a confirmed case or a person in isolation has visited frequently, wear a surgical mask.

If a confirmed case or a person in isolation is in a room you need to clean, ask them to put on a surgical mask.

Sewerage

At this time, we do not know if the virus can survive in sewerage. If you work closely with sewerage, take the same precautions outlined above.

Food and water

Some coronaviruses can survive in the gastrointestinal tract. But it is highly unlikely that you will become infected through food if you:

  • prepare and cook food properly
  • follow good hand hygiene

Drinking water in Australia is high quality. We do not expect coronavirus to affect drinking water.

Training

A 30-minute online training module is now available – How to protect yourself and the people you are caring for from infection with COVID-19.

This training is for care workers across all health care settings.

It covers the fundamentals of infection prevention and control for COVID-19 including:

  • COVID-19 – what is it?
  • Signs and symptoms
  • Keeping safe – protecting yourself and others
  • Myth busting

Users must register but registration is open to anyone. 

Training is hosted on an external site, provided by our trusted COVID-19 training partner, Aspen Medical.

Register now

Support for the aged care workforce

The Australian Government is relaxing international student visa work conditions for:

  • aged care facilities
  • home care providers

This will allow international student nurses and other aged care workers to work more than 40 hours a fortnight.

Stay informed

Read the latest COVID-19 news and media.

Resources

For more about COVID-19, read our:

Health Sector Emergency Response Plan

The Australian Health Protection Principal Committee endorsed this plan on 17 February 2020.

Australian Health Sector Emergency Response Plan for Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19)

The Australian Health Sector Emergency Response Plan for Novel Coronavirus (the COVID-19 Plan) guides the Australian health sector response.

Last updated: 
1 April 2020

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