Sick medics go untested amid shortages
QUEENSLAND Health is rationing coronavirus tests and temporarily halted the automatic testing of sick doctors and nurses.
As the Federal Government pushes Australian pharmaceutical companies to produce new mass tests, Queensland doctors have been ordered to stop testing sick patients unless they have been overseas or in contact with known carriers.
In a memo sent to medicos on Friday, Queensland Health revealed doctors and nurses with cold or flu symptoms, who previously were screened for coronavirus, would be sent home without testing.
Tests using the "gold standard'' of polymerase chain reaction, which detects the virus DNA, can only be given to patients with compromised immune systems, such as those with cancer or HIV.
"Full respiratory virus PCR testing should now only be requested in assessment of vulnerable immunocompromised patients,'' doctors were told late on Friday in a Queensland Health memo which has been seen by The Courier-Mail.
"COVID-19 testing, including healthcare workers, should only occur if they have fever OR respiratory symptoms AND travelled overseas within the previous 14 days OR had recent close contact with a confirmed case.''
Doctors can also test patients with pneumonia - but only if they need to be admitted to hospital.
"Patients who present with cold and flu-like symptoms, who do not meet the above criteria, should NOT be tested for COVID-19,'' the memo states.
"Health care workers who do not meet the criteria for testing should remain at home until their symptoms resolve, at which point they can return to work.''
Queensland Heath backflipped last night, sending a new memo stating that health workers are to be tested if they have a fever over 37.5 degrees and respiratory symptoms.
The health department is also urging "judicious use'' of surgical masks, telling GP clinics and hospitals to limit the number of health workers dealing with COVID-19 cases.
Royal Australian College of General Practitioners Queensland chairman Dr Bruce Willett said yesterday coronavirus cases were "almost certainly higher'' than the official estimates, as so few patients were being tested.
He said COVID-19 tests were being rationed because the United States was withholding supplies of a reagent chemical needed for testing.
"I know they would like to do more tests and it's not penny-pinching,'' he said.
"If we test too many people, at worst case we will run out and at best case we will delay people at high risk getting their results back.''
Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt said 230,000 extra masks had arrived yesterday and 97,000 COVID-19 tests were to arrive this week.
He said Australia had carried out 81,000 tests and was negotiating with the Peter Doherty Institute for Infection and Immunity in Melbourne to produce new types of "mass tests''.
"What we have is sufficient for current requirements,'' Mr Hunt said.
"We want to ensure priority is given to those most likely to have (coronavirus)."
Mr Hunt said "to confront the threat of coronavirus we're ensuring we know who has it and where they are".
"Our best scientists and medical experts are working around the clock to secure the supplies we need," he said.
A Queensland Health spokesman said $890,000 had been spent on three new Hologic Panther Fusion instruments for testing.
"The additional instruments at Pathology Queensland Laboratories at Toowoomba Hospital, Rockhampton Hospital and the Sunshine Coast University Hospital will dramatically improve turnaround time,'' the spokesman said.