Australia

Coronavirus: Australians told not to avoid GPs as government looks to release 11 million new face masks

Minister for Health Greg Hunt has condemned abuse directed towards healthcare workers. Source: AAP

Australians are being urged not to avoid their doctors during the coronavirus crisis, as the government announces it will distribute 11 million more face masks to health workers.

People with chronic or acute medical issues are being urged not to stay away from doctors and hospitals during the coronavirus crisis.

And patients uncomfortable using new technologies to contact their GPs have been told to pick up the phone instead.

Australian Medical Association president Tony Bartone is concerned the pandemic could claim the lives of people with treatable ailments.

"If Australians neglect their care during this time, all we are going to do is shift an enormous burden of care many, many months down the road," he told reporters in Canberra on Thursday.

"With worse outcomes, more complications, more morbidity, and indeed many Australians will lose their life to preventable conditions."

Australian Medical Association (AMA) President Tony Bartone.
Australian Medical Association President Tony Bartone.
AAP

Dr Bartone urged unwell Australians to contact their doctors.

"Keep in touch and maintain your usual care," he said. "There's never been an easier time and a safer time to access the care face-to-face in a clinic."

John Bonning from the Australasian College for Emergency Medicine says there is an understandable level of community concern in relation to COVID-19.

But Dr Bonning does not want people to stop seeking medical treatment.

"By delaying seeking medical attention for severe illness or health issues such as heart attacks, asthma or abdominal conditions such as appendicitis, patients risk making their situations much worse," he said.

"In extreme cases, this can be life-threatening."

Dr Bonning said elderly people and those with chronic illness should continue having regular clinical reviews, and visit the emergency department if they experience serious symptoms.

Health Minister Greg Hunt urged people to maintain their day-to-day health management plans.

"That means call the doctor, see the doctor if it's a face-to-face consultation that's required, but don't ignore the doctor," he told reporters.

Doctors are concerned some people are so uncomfortable using "telehealth" platforms during the coronavirus crisis they are avoiding consultations altogether.

Patients unable or unwilling to use new technologies such as video conferencing are being urged to call instead.

More face masks on the way

Meanwhile, some 11 million more face masks are set to be distributed across the nation after authorities secured 30 million new masks in recent days, bolstering the strained national stockpile.

Seven million new masks have been allocated to state and territory frontline public hospitals, while 2.3 million have been set aside for primary health networks. 

Around 500,000 masks will go to community pharmacies, 75,000 to health workers in Indigenous communities and 160,000 to respiratory clinics.

A further 1.7 million are bound for aged care workers. 

“There’s been intense global competition for scarce resources,” Mr Hunt said.

“As a nation we’re doing very well - but it does mean there are challenges.”

Dr Bartone said concerns over air quality following this summer’s bushfire crisis had contributed to the dwindling of supplies.

He also advised the general public against using masks to avoid placing further pressure on supplies available.   

“We need to conserve supplies,” he said.

People in Australia must stay at least 1.5 metres away from others and gatherings are limited to two people unless you are with your family or household.

If you believe you may have contracted the virus, call your doctor (don’t visit) or contact the national Coronavirus Health Information Hotline on 1800 020 080.

If you are struggling to breathe or experiencing a medical emergency, call 000. SBS is committed to informing Australia’s diverse communities about the latest COVID-19 developments.

News and information is available in 63 languages at sbs.com.au/coronavirus

Additional reporting by Tom Stayner.

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