Calls are growing for more support for health services in the state’s north-west in the wake of a coronavirus outbreak.

“With the North West Regional Hospital closed for surgical and medical patients, residents need an assurance they will not be required to leave the North West for critical health services,” said Greens Health Spokesperson Rosalie Woodruff.

Director of Public Health Mark Veitch confirmed earlier today that a number of cases arising unexpectedly fit the definition of an ‘outbreak’. Chief Medical Officer Prof Tony Lawler is in charge of the incident management team.

“Healthcare workers who have been exposed to coronavirus are being removed from the North West Regional Hospital workforce, and life-saving medical and surgical services have been closed. Tasmanians need to know when, and how, the additional health system capacity will be available.”

Since Friday 4 health ware workers and one patient have tested positive for the novel coronavirus. Over 27 staff from the NWRH and Mersey Community hospital who were ‘close contacts’ of the cases are now in quarantine and being monitored for symptoms.

Woodruff said every day in the COVID-19 pandemic is precious and that the Health Minister should act now.

“North West coasters, and their dedicated healthcare workers, need to be reassured that resources and facilities from private operators will be directed to maintain delivery of essential health services in the region.”

This should be able to quickly, Woodruff argued, now that the federal government has approved a pipeline of money to allow state governments to take over private hospitals and boost the public system’s COVID-19 capacity.

PPE

Labor Leader Rebecca White said the health system has two immediate and critical needs – more personal protective equipment (PPE), and more workers.

“Healthcare workers need to be able to perform their duties safely, so they can continue to care for the rest of the community. To do that, they need adequate supplies of PPE … we are still hearing concerning reports that people are not able to access the PPE they need.”

White said with many health workers in isolation as a result of the outbreak in the state’s north-west, the government must act to fill staffing gaps quickly.

“Every health worker in isolation is one less person working on the frontline, and that gap needs to be filled. I have urged the Premier to negotiate with UTAS to bring in undergraduates in a range of healthcare disciplines to support our permanent health workforce on the frontline.”

Another suggested approach is to supported retired health care workers to re-register.

“The Tasmanian community stands united in its support for our health workforce and we urge the government to provide an update on recruitment of more workers to support the delivery of health care and an update on the rollout of more PPE to all health workers,” White concluded.