WA’s doctors union has slammed the McGowan Government’s plan to relax COVID testing at hospitals as the State’s virus-related hospital cases spiral to critical levels.
Australian Medical Association WA president Mark Duncan-Smith warned that emergency waiting rooms would become “super spreader events” if inbound hospital patients were no longer required to take rapid antigen tests.
“It will make it easier for COVID to spread through the hospitals [and] it will make it easier for for visitors to spread COVID to patients,” he said.
“This doesn’t make any sense to us, especially in the context of hospitals being in continuous code yellow, a record number of new inpatients in hospital [with COVID-19], and a hospital system that is on its knees.”
Health Minister Amber-Jade Sanderson said authorities were considering a “scale down” of the “red alert” processes at WA hospitals in a bid to relieve pressure on staff.
The new measures would likely only require incoming patients with COVID-like symptoms to take a RAT.
“Infection control processes remain important to keeping patients and staff safe, but we also need to assist our healthcare workers to safely and quickly process patients through the emergency department,” she said.
Ambulance ramping has spiked this month, with paramedics spending 2818 hours waiting to offload patients at WA hospitals in the first 12 days of July.
That has placed the month on track to exceed 7000 hours of ramping, which would set a new unwelcome record.
The move to reduce COVID testing measures comes as WA surged to a new daily record of virus-related hospitalisations, with 351 infected patients listed as being in hospital on Saturday.
Mr Duncan-Smith said he expected the State’s COVID-related hospital cases would continue to rise in the coming weeks — potentially soon reaching between 400 to 500 people hospitalised at one time.
“Now that is [equal to] one tertiary hospital taken out of our system. We only have four and we’ve already seen in the past that we don’t even cope with for tertiary hospitals,” he said.
The AMA WA president urged the State Government to take immediate action to slow the spread of the immune-evading BA.4 and BA.5 Omicron subvariants.
“Our [hospital] system does not have enough beds to allow this to go up much more. This is why the McGowan Government needs to introduce restrictions,” he said.
Mr Duncan-Smith called for masks to be mandated again, and said that needed to happen immediately as it would take two to three weeks for any measures to have an effect.
He said based on the growing rate of hospitalisations, encouraging West Australians to mask up was “clearly not enough”.
WA Chief Health Officer Andy Robertson told The West Australian earlier this week that he strongly encouraged mask-wearing indoors, but a mandate was not yet on the cards.