The Australian Government is taking further steps to support and strengthen the health system as we open up to living with COVID-19 under phases B and C of the National Plan to transition Australia's National COVID Response, as agreed by National Cabinet.
As States and Territories reach the target COVID-19 vaccination rates, lockdowns are lifted and borders opened, there will be more but milder COVID-19 cases in a community better protected through Australia’s successful vaccine rollout.
With a highly vaccinated population the majority of COVID-positive people will be able to be managed in the community and won’t require hospitalisation. In total, our government has already invested more than $32 billion in total health funding since the pandemic began - the largest health response in Australia's history.
These outcomes have ensured that Australia has one of the lowest case and death rates from COVID-19 amongst major developed countries in the OECD.
To further ensure all parts of our health system are strong and well prepared to safely manage patients the Australian Government is making further investments of more than $180 million. These include:
- National COVID Triage, Management and Escalation Infrastructure: readying the national health call centre Healthdirect to connect COVID-positive people who receive a positive COVID-19 laboratory test result are contacted as early as possible and connected to the right level of care and support. The Government is offering this service to assist State and Territory public health units in managing an expected increase in positive tests in an environment of living with COVID-19. People who receive a positive COVID-19 pathology test result will be contacted within 24 hours to: confirm their test results; check on their symptoms and risk factors; and connect them to the appropriate level of health care. If people are self-isolating at home, the service will check that they have enough supports in place and, if needed, connect them to support. This service will complement the National Coronavirus Helpline (1800 020 080).
- COVID Community Care Pathways: providing clear plans on where and how COVID positive people will be managed through primary and community care services, and when care needs to be delivered through hospitals. The Government is rapidly updating COVID-positive care pathways in every region of Australia through collaboration between the 31 Primary Health Networks (PHNs) and their corresponding local hospital networks. The care pathways will connect COVID-19 patients with the right level of care, whether that is self-monitoring, care from a general practice or general practice respiratory clinic, or for higher risk patients, care in a hospital or a hospital in the home arrangement. The pathways will include clear and rapid escalation arrangements for people to receive hospital-based care if needed. These pathways will also continue to be refined as more COVID-19 treatments are made available through the National Medical Stockpile, hospitals or community pharmacies.
- Additional MBS item for general practitioners: providing a rebate of $25 which can be claimed in addition to existing general consultation items, to support face-face care of COVID-19 positive patients.
- Home visits for patients recovering at home: commissioning home visits by practice nurses, nurse practitioners and medical deputising services for patients requiring home visits or after hours services while under GP management with a particular focus on regional and rural areas. This will mobilise additional workforce to respond to any spikes in local cases and help ensure patients can be safely and effectively cared for at home.
- National Medical Stockpile supplies to support primary health care: procuring supplies of pulse oximeters and strengthening distribution arrangements for personal protective equipment (PPE) to general practice and other primary health care settings seeing COVID-positive people, with particular emphasis on strengthening the supply chain for rural and remote practices. Patients will be asked to take regular readings and will be carefully monitored for any sign of deterioration.
- General Practice Respiratory Clinics (GPRCs): Extending the reach and the role of our network of GPRCs so that COVID-positive people without an available usual GP, or where access to GPs is limited, have a general practice that they can safely attend for assessment and management rather than presenting at an emergency department in non-urgent circumstances.
- COVID-19 Management Guidelines: the RACGP is urgently updating its COVID-19 Management Guidelines for GPs to include treatment of COVID positive patients with moderate symptoms and to support care for COVID-19 positive people at home.
- Continued dispensing arrangements: extending the temporary Continued Dispensing (Emergency Measures) for the dispensing of medicines on the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS) until 30 June 2022. This measure will allow community pharmacists, under certain conditions, to continue to give patients up to one month’s supply of their PBS medicine, if they cannot access their prescription. The current Continued Dispensing arrangements were initially put in place in January 2020 in response to the bushfire outbreaks and then extended to assist physical distancing and to provide flexibility and continuity of care as the COVID-19 pandemic unfolded. From 13 January 2020 to 30 June 2021, over 360,000 people received at least one supply of medicine under the Emergency Measure, with 75 per cent receiving one medicine and the remainder receiving two or more different medicines.
Through the National Partnership on COVID-19 Response, the Australian Government has already provided more than $6.6 billion to states and territories in funding for the direct costs of diagnosing and treating COVID-19, and the broader public health costs such as contact tracing, outbreak management and vaccination.
Combined, these measures further support the continued implementation of the National Plan and deliver on the Government’s commitment to a timely and safe re-opening of Australia. Further announcements are expected in coming weeks.