Desperate doctors in Australia have resorted to buying face masks at Bunnings Hardware stores to guard against coronavirus infection, because too few government supplies are getting to clinics and traditional stockists have sold out. Even though the government has released millions of masks from a national stockpile, doctors claim they are having trouble accessing them.
The risk to frontline health workers was highlighted after 40 staff from Sydney’s Ryde Hospital were ordered into home quarantine because they had interacted with a doctor later diagnosed with COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus. Royal Australian College of GPs (RACGP) president Harry Nespolon said the incident “underlines the fragility of the healthcare system.”
Nespolon also expressed concern that GPs were not getting enough support (including equipment such as masks and gowns) to prepare for an anticipated surge of coronavirus patients and to help with already-overburdened hospitals.
In late January, the Government authorised the release of 1 million masks from the national medical stockpile to be distributed to doctors and health workers via local Primary Health Networks. However, GPs have commented that the masks have been slow to arrive at clinics.
Melbourne GP Vyom Sharma said some GPs have resorted to rationing the use of masks to avoid running out before an influx of coronavirus cases. After multiple calls to the local Primary Health Network that coordinates health services and distributes masks from the national stockpile, the clinic received only 40 masks to share between seven doctors.
GPs are advised to wear P2/N95 respirator masks when treating someone with any severe pneumonia-like symptoms. S
Sydney GP Charlotte Hespe told ABC they were hearing “lots of crazy stories about what practices are doing” to source masks,. but added, “In Sydney, we’ve been slightly fortunate in that we all got a small supply of masks with the bushfires because of the smoke.”
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