Settlement Guide

Living with an underlying condition

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If you are over 60 and living with a chronic condition, you may be worried about your regular medical visits during COVID-19 but with Australia’s infection rates controlled better than many parts of the world, experts say you shouldn’t worry about receiving physical treatment at healthcare facilities.


  • Patients with chronic illnesses are not accessing the healthcare they need due to fear of COVID-19
  • Hospitals and clinics are now safer for patients due to strict control measures
  • Medications can be accessed for one month at a time to provide enough supplies to genuine patients



Despite living with lung cancer for 12 years and participating in clinical trials for four years, 69-year-old Effie Atkins isn’t stressed about going for check-ups or pathology tests.

I am confident because I follow exactly the advice of the professionals. Hand-washing is the most important. 

 Atkins is in a fortunate situation being married to a doctor.

The social distancing rule cancer patients need to follow has not stopped Mrs Atkins from seeing her beloved grandchildren or treating them to delicious home-cooked Greek cuisine.

I just deliver them in front of their house and then I ring, they come out, they wave at me, we talk a little bit what we’re doing. 

Professor Eva Segelov, Director of Oncology at Monash Health and Monash University says the COVID-19 pandemic has largely moved non-essential medical consultations online in the form of Telehealth.

She says this will leave a lasting legacy for Australia’s post-COVID-19 healthcare system.

An interpreter can be brought in to the consultation by video and that means there is a three-way consultation. 

Online medical consultation
Getty ImagesJasmin Merdan

The Australian Medical Association’s South Australian branch president Dr Chris Moy admits he has not yet had the opportunity to engage an interpreter in his Telehealth services.

He acknowledges some elderly or disable patients, and patients of culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds are left behind in accessing Telehealth services as the medical industry rapidly transitions to online services in a fast-changing world.

Professor Segelov says visits to hospitals and medical facilities have sharply declined due to public fear of COVID-19.

Dr Moy says the increasing uptake of Telehealth and strict social distancing measures actually make visits to your healthcare clinics far safer than before.

However, doctors are concerned that patients are holding back from going to their normal medical appointments fearing exposure to coronavirus.

Patients with diabetes should exercise extra caution as data from China and Italy shows that diabetics may be twice as likely to die from complications of COVID-19, while they are not at a higher risk than the general population to contract the coronavirus.

Sugar level test

Dr Moy says delaying essential health checks could result in serious consequences for people already living with an underlying condition such as high blood pressure, diabetes, obesity, cancer, liver condition or heart, kidney, or lung disease.

They’re having chest pain, for example, they normally would go see the doctor but they’re too scared to go see the doctor and it turns out they’re developing angina which is building up to a heart attack.

SBS Hebrew producer Nitza Lowenstein interviewed Dr Jason Kaplan, clinical lead of cardiovascular and respiratory medicine at Macquarie University on how the postponement of some elective surgeries will affect people with serious heart conditions.

According to Dr Kaplan, people whose heart disease is stable will need to wait for an elective cardiac procedure.

For most people presenting with an acute heart attack or acute life-threatening heart issue this will be dealt with acutely.

Queensland pharmacist Elsa Wang says vulnerable patients over the age of 70 and people living with chronic conditions are eligible for free delivery services provided by Australia Post in participating pharmacies.

According to Asthma Australia, people with asthma over the age of 50 or those with severe asthma or of Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander descent are more likely to develop serious complications if they contract coronavirus.

Asthma medication
Getty ImagesRgStudio

The government has imposed restrictions to ensure sufficient medical supplies are available for genuine patients by limiting their usual medicine to one month’s supply at a time.

Pharmacies no longer provide over-the-counter asthma medications and now require customers to present a prescription or an Asthma Action Plan to purchase Ventolin.

Professor Segelov advises patients with chronic illnesses to exercise self-care by following all the recommended health guidelines and speaking to their treating healthcare team to find out what support is on offer.

Having grocery and medications delivered, keeping up with exercise and contacting family, discussing your specific case with your treating team so that you’ve got a good understanding of how COVID-19 should affect any treatment you are on. 

Meanwhile, Effie Atkins is buzzing with joy as she prepares another batch of delicious home-cooked meal for her extended family.

She has a busy day planned with a walk in the park, making phone calls to check on her friends, and brainstorming ways to fundraise for an extra doctor to join her clinical trial team at Monash University.

Coronavirus won’t scare me because cancer is a scary thing and you deal when you have to and this time with coronavirus, you have to deal with that and make your life happy. 

Buying medication from pharmacy
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If you’re unwell, call your doctor to check if you can access Telehealth or if you need to visit the clinic.

Call the National Coronavirus Helpline line on 1800 020 080 for information on coronavirus 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

For information on Asthma care during COVID-19, visit the Asthma Foundation website.

If you’d like information about managing your cancer in the time of coronavirus, the Cancer Society website has multilingual resources in 12 languages.

You can find out more about managing your diabetes by visiting the Diabetes Australia website.

If you have liver conditions such as chronic hepatitis B or hepatitis C, you can go to Hepatitis Australia for more information.

If you are suffering from a kidney disease, you can learn about writing or updating your kidney disease management plan by visiting the Kidney Health Australia website.

You can learn more about COVID-19 in various languages from the New South Wales Health website.

If you’re under stress and need emotional support, call Lifeline on 13 11 14 or Beyond Blue on 1300 22 4636 for 24 hour support.

You can access any healthcare services in your language using the Translating and Interpreting Service by calling 13 14 50 and asking for your desired organisation.

If your life is in danger, call triple zero immediately.


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