Frequently Asked Questions

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COVID-19 General FAQs - Masks and PPE

Are masks still in short supply?

While supplies of many PPE items have improved, they are still limited.
 
We are making every effort to ensure mask orders are fulfilled as soon as possible.
  
Visit our Mask Distribution webpage for more information.

What kinds of masks are you distributing?

The vast majority of masks we are distributing are surgical masks to general practices, Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisations, pharmacies and allied health practices, based on guidelines from the Australian Government Department of Health.
 
We are also distributing N95 masks to a very small number of general practices in regional areas, who meet strict criteria. This means they are expected to undertake detailed assessments because there is no suitable facility for assessment nearby, for example an Emergency Department, COVID clinic or GP Respiratory Clinic.

How many surgical masks can I order if I am a general practice?

The maximum number of boxes you will be allocated each time will be based on the number of GPs providing face to face appointments at your practice.

  • 1-10 GPs = 2 boxes
  • > 10 GPs = 4 boxes
Re-orders will not be accepted within five business days (Mon-Fri) of the previous request, except in exceptional circumstances. 
 
Please call Practice Assist on 1800 227 747 or email practiceassist@wapha.org.au if you require resupply in less than a week since last allocation.
 

How many surgical masks can I order if I am a pharmacy or allied health practice?

Pharmacies and allied health practices can order 1 box per pharmacy or practice, based on the Australian Government Department of Health’s Distribution of PPE through PHNS Tranche 4 guidelines.
 
Re-orders will not be accepted within five business days (Mon-Fri) of the previous request, except in exceptional circumstances. 
 
Please call Practice Assist on 1800 227 747 or email practiceassist@wapha.org.au if you require resupply in less than a week since last allocation.

Can I access PPE from the AMA (WA?)

AMA Medical Products are currently facilitating the purchase and distribution of PPE to out-of-hospital Western Australian health services.

View and order products here.
 
WA customers can use the discount code “AMAWA” to get 5% off their first order.

What do we do with the surgical masks we have been allocated?

These surgical masks are intended for use by health professionals and patients, only when dealing with patients presenting with symptoms suggestive of COVID-19.

Due to the aforementioned shortage, they are not intended for wider use, such as in waiting rooms, or to be given to other patients, or sold to pharmacy customers.

Please read WA Department of Health’s Conservation of PPE Fact Sheet.

Some information sources say surgical masks are ineffective in protecting from the virus, so why are you distributing them?

According to the guidelines distributed by both the Australian Government Department of Health and WA Health, surgical masks do offer protection during routine consultations. Please refer to the links below.
 
https://www.health.gov.au/resources/publications/novel-coronavirus-2019-ncov-information-sheet-for-primary-and-community-health-workers
 
https://ww2.health.wa.gov.au/Articles/A_E/Coronavirus
 

Who is receiving N95 masks and how should they be used?

WA Primary Health Alliance is currently distributing a limited supply of N95 masks to general practices and Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisations.
 
Updated guidelines for the use of N95 masks confirm these are to be used ONLY by the health care professional caring for the very sick patient, suspected of having COVID-19 and not the patient, who should be given a surgical mask.
 
N95 masks are to be reserved for health professionals dealing with patients with uncontrollable coughing, and when undertaking aerosol generating procedures.
 
General practices are only expected to undertake detailed assessments, if there is no suitable facility for assessment nearby, for example an Emergency Department or COVID clinic.
 
As such, N95 masks are not being distributed to general practices in the metropolitan area, due to their proximity to either an Emergency Department or COVID Clinic to which they can refer a patient for a detailed assessment.

Read more about the eligibility guidelines, and guidance on the supply of masks from the National Medical Stockpile.
 
Surgical masks remain the appropriate mask to use when assessing patients whose symptoms are suggestive of COVID-19 and meet the case definition.
 

Why are pharmacies and allied health practices not receiving N95 masks?

Surgical masks are suitable for routine patient consultations with patients whose symptoms and epidemiological history are suggestive of COVID-19.

According to  Australian Government Department of Health guidelines, distribution of N95 respirators is limited to general practices, including Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisations, who need to assess suspected COVID-19 cases because of the unavailability of nearby dedicated respiratory clinics or emergency departments (e.g. in some rural and remote communities).

Such practices need to have isolation facilities and other appropriate infrastructure, staff competent in use of PPE, and a pandemic plan. Additionally, N95 respirators should only be used with other PPE (gowns, gloves and eye protection).

How do I access other personal protective equipment such as gowns, goggles, or hand sanitiser?

PHNs have only been provided with limited supplies of surgical and N95 masks, the latter for use by general practices and Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisations who do not have a suitable facility for assessment nearby, for example an Emergency Department, COVID clinic or GP Respiratory Clinic.

Other personal protective equipment we receive is strictly for use by Australian Government endorsed GP Respiratory Clinics.

We do not have any other personal protective equipment to provide to other health services and professionals at this time.
 
You may be able to access supplies via the AMA (WA). View and order products here.

How do NDIS and disability providers get masks?

Access to masks for these sets of care workers is being kept under review and may be considered as more stocks become available and if risks increase. In the interim, the best way for care workers to protect themselves and the people they are caring for is to undertake the training available at covid-19training.gov.au
 
Please send all general queries in relation to the National Medical Stockpile to Stockpile.Ops@health.gov.au

How do home / aged care providers get masks?

Aged care providers that require Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) must email agedcarecovidppe@health.gov.au for all requests.

All requests will be triaged by the Australian Government Department of Health with priority given to facilities, programs and workers where there has been a confirmed case of COVID-19.

The following information must be provided in your email request to the Australian Government Department of Health:

  • the facility, program or service requiring PPE
  • if you have had a confirmed case of COVID-19 at your facility, program or service
  • types and quantities of PPE required – please note, only surgical masks are available at this stage and other PPE will be provided when available
  • details of other suppliers you have attempted to source PPE stock from.

If your facility, program or service is experiencing an outbreak of influenza the above process also applies. The Department of Health will triage your request to determine priority and may be in contact with you for further information. Once approved the request for supplies will be shared with the National Incident Room who will work with your State or Territory Government to distribute the supplies.

It is important to remember that if you do not have a confirmed case of COVID-19 within your facility, program or service you should expect delays in receiving your PPE due to the increase in demand.

COVID-19 General FAQs - Testing, Clinical Information & Prescribing

Should I be taking specimens from/ testing a patient?

GPs are NOT to test for COVID-19, except if they are working in an Australian Government endorsed GP Respiratory Clinic, or in an aged care facility in the metropolitan area. Please see the next FAQ for more details.

GPs can now request COVID-19 testing, as outlined below.

The patient must be referred for the specimen to be collected at:
  • a COVID Clinic or a regional or remote hospital, health service of remote area health clinic; or
  • a Chief Health Officer approved private pathology COVID collection centre in metropolitan Perth; or
  • an Australian Government endorsed GP-led Respiratory Clinic
 
WA testing criteria must be followed by persons requesting or conducting testing for COVID-19.
 
Please refer to the COVID-19 Assessment and Management Health Pathway.
 
The full list of COVID clinics and private pathology providers is available here.
 
The full list of GP Respiratory Clinics is available here.

Can GPs test in aged care facilities?

Metropolitan-based GPs are reminded that with aged care defined as a high-risk setting, they can refer residents of these facilities to a COVID clinic for testing, they can test residents if they have the correct equipment/ PPE, or they can organise domiciliary collection by the patients’ usual pathology provider.
 
In addition, this Australian Government COVID-19 response webinar goes into some detail on the role of GPs in the care of people living in residential aged care facilities.
 
Read the relevant Clinician Alert #22 here.

Where can testing take place?

GPs can now request COVID-19 testing, as outlined below.

The patient must be referred for the specimen to be collected at:
  • a COVID Clinic or a regional or remote hospital, health service of remote area health clinic; or
  • a Chief Health Officer approved private pathology COVID collection centre in metropolitan Perth; or
  • an Australian Government endorsed GP-led Respiratory Clinic
 
 
WA testing criteria must be followed by persons requesting or conducting testing for COVID-19.
 
The full list of COVID clinics, GP-led respiratory clinics and private pathology providers is available here.
 

 

What are GP-led Respiratory Clinics and how will they operate?

On behalf of the Australian Government Department of Health, WA Primary Health Alliance is identifying priority locations for establishment of GP-led respiratory clinics.
 
The aim is to have up to 10 sites running across the state's three PHN regions, being PHN Perth North and PHN South Perth and PHN Country WA.
 
The GP led Respiratory Clinics can assess patients with mild to moderate respiratory symptoms, collecting specimens where appropriate, and providing clinical guidance
 
The Commonwealth Department of Health is contracting with existing accredited general practices to provide the services. In some instances, temporary structures will be considered to supplement existing buildings.
 
Visit our GP Respiratory Clinics and COVID Clinics webpage for more information.
 

What is the current testing criteria?

Current testing criteria is updated in the COVID-19 Assessment and Management Health Pathway.

To access HealthPathways please email the HealthPathways team at healthpathways@wapha.org.au.

Can you give me clinical information on how to handle these patients? 

HealthPathways has the latest information available, as well as relevant clinical pathways for your use. For up to date information, you can access the HealthPathways WA website. If required, email healthpathways@wapha.org.au for log on details.  
 
You can also visit WA Health’s website which has regularly updated comprehensive information https://ww2.health.wa.gov.au/Articles/A_E/Coronavirus
 
The RACGP website also has information on infection control and pandemic management. 
https://www.racgp.org.au/ 
 

Have you developed specific COVID-19 Health Pathways?

The following content has been now published on the HealthPathways website:
 
COVID-19 Practice Management – preparing a general practice to respond to COVID-19, including strategies to manage an influx of affected patients.
 
COVID-19 Assessment and Management – assessing and managing patients who have or are suspected of having COVID‑19, and for those who have been exposed to COVID‑19

COVID-19 Requestsrequesting COVID-19-related services and advice in Western Australia
 
COVID-19 Information – This pathway lists links to a number of resources to provide a comprehensive collation of reference material.

COVID-19 Impact on Local Services – lists changes to public services due to COVID-19, and will be updated as information comes to hand.
Above is fine, but I suggest instead ‘lists changes to hospital and statewide services due to COVID-19, and will be updated as information comes to hand.’ I’m planning on updating the HP page to say this.
 
COVID-19 Telehealth – telehealth consultations during the COVID‑19 pandemic.
 
Email healthpathways@wapha.org.au for login details if you do not already have access to HealthPathways.

I have been asked by patients who are asymptomatic if they should wear a mask. What should I tell them?

WA Health does not recommend the use of facemasks for the general community (who have no symptoms of respiratory illness), to prevent the risk of contracting the coronavirus disease (COVID-19). The community can find out more practical information about the virus, including what they can do to protect themselves, on the Healthy WA website.
 

What impact does the lack of confirmed community transmission have on my practice or patient advice?

Until we receive further advice from the Department of Health WA, our advice remains the same with regard to social distancing, hand hygiene and cough etiquette. Practices should continue to operate as per the WA Department of Health’s COVID-19 clinician guidelines.
 

What should I do to protect my patients in higher risk categories?

General practice should remain very much aware of the higher risk categories:
  • Those aged 70 years
  • Those aged > 50 years in Indigenous communities
  • Those who are pregnant, and parents who have children aged <12months
  • Immunosuppressed patients
  • Those with other co-morbidities:  including cardiovascular disease, chronic respiratory disease, hypertension, diabetes and cancer
  • People who smoke
 
You should remind patients to continue to protect themselves with regard to social distancing, hand hygiene and cough etiquette. You should also encourage them to have their flu vaccination and pneumonia vaccination when recommended, while assisting them to keep their health conditions under the best possible control.
 
For COVID-19 information relating to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health, visit the NACCHO Coronavirus site and subscribe to the NACCHO Communique
 
The RACGP has regularly updated advice.
 
You can also access our GP Aboriginal Fact Sheet and Checklist.
 

What do we do if a COVID-19 positive patient has been in the practice?

In the event a COVID-19 patient has been in close contact with members of the practice team, the Public Health Unit would contact the practice to work through next steps. Decisions would be made on a case by case basis, based on the level of contact with the infected patient.
 

COVID-19 General FAQs - Hospitals, Other Health and Screening Services

What are the changes to hospital visiting hours?

Restrictions on visiting hours at Western Australian hospitals will be partially eased from Tuesday June 2, 2020 and the number of people permitted to visit will increase to two people at one time.
 
Children will also be able to return as visitors and maternity patients can now be accompanied by two birthing partners.
 
To ensure the safety of staff and patients, physical distancing throughout all locations remains critically important and visitors should continue to practice good personal hygiene.
 
As always, people should not visit patients in hospitals if they are unwell and the guidelines still stipulate that visitors should not enter a hospital if they:
  • have tested positive for COVID-19;
  • have a fever or a cold or a flu-like illness, including symptoms such as, sore throat, cough, fatigue and difficulty breathing;
  • have travelled outside Australia and are therefore required to self-isolate for 14 days; or
  • have been in contact with a confirmed case of coronavirus and are therefore required to self-isolate for 14 days 
 
Visitor restrictions to confirmed and suspected COVID-19 patients remain in place at all public hospitals.
 
More Coronavirus: COVID-19 Community Advice is available here.

What changes are taking place to outpatient appointments and elective surgery?

Following an earlier scaling back of elective surgery, as of Monday 18 May, Western Australian public and private hospitals are resuming 50% of their normal elective surgery activity, with a focus on urgent cases and those who have experienced long waits.
 
Full information is available on the COVID-19 Impact on Local Services Health Pathway.

Can I refer my patients to other community-based health services?

Elective surgery in Western Australian hospitals will increase to 75 per cent of normal activity on Tuesday, June 2, with the full resumption of elective surgery activity expected on Monday, 15 June.

Patients will be contacted by the hospital if the surgery is scheduled to proceed. People are asked to not contact hospitals directly with enquiries as it diverts staff away from their core duties at this busy time.

Full information is available on the COVID-19 Impact on Local Services Health Pathway.

Can I refer my patients for routine pathology tests and screening?

Routine pathology has continued throughout the pandemic and pathology providers will have put in place additional safety measures, so your patients can be reassured about their safety, but also the need to have routine checks undertaken, particularly with regards to health checks for chronic conditions.

While some screening services were paused, such as Breast Screen WA, these and other screening services are now available for routine and urgent appointments.

COVID-19 General FAQs - Practice and Pharmacy Support

How are you communicating with practices about COVID-19?

WA Primary Health Alliance is sending a daily GP Update, in conjunction with WA Department of Health, Australian Medical Association (WA), Rural Health West, Australian College of Rural and Remote Medicine, WA General Practice Education and Training and Royal Australian College of General Practitioners WA.
 
You can subscribe to the update here.
 
Our practice support staff are in regular contact with general practices to offer advice and support, and our Practice Assist helpline has additional staffing to ensure calls are answered promptly.
 
Our Practice Assist website includes a dedicated COVID-19 section including resources, FAQs, and information on telehealth, MBS, webinars, PIP QI changes and much more.

How are you helping practices to implement telehealth?

WA Primary Health Alliance has partnered with Healthdirect Australia to support general practices in Western Australia to deliver video consulting capability in a bid to help contain the rapid spread of coronavirus (COVID-19). Find out more and register your interest here.

What are you doing to support the wellbeing of general practice?

We have launched a free GP wellness program, offering up to three free confidential counselling sessions for GPs and practice staff. Find out more here.
 

What training and education are you offering at this time?

We are offering a series of webinars, on topics such as familiarization with Health Direct Video Call, but also virtual Communities of Practice to discuss topics such as infection control, mental health and future proofing your practice during COVID-19. Find out more.
 
This is in addition to the intensive support provided by our practice support team, via our Practice Assist helpline and website, and the one-on-one practice interaction by our Primary Health Liaison team.

 

What are you doing to support pharmacies and allied health practices during the COVID-19 pandemic?

We are working closely with the WA branches of Pharmacy Guild and Pharmaceutical Society of Australia and allied health peak bodies to ensure their members are heard and informed.
 
This includes sending these organisations up to date information on mask ordering and other relevant information.

You can order masks via this online order form.

 
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COVID-19 General FAQs - Electronic Prescribing

How are you preparing us for the changes to electronic prescribing from 1 June?

The Australian Government has accelerated the delivery of electronic prescriptions which will be introduced in a steady and managed approach from the end of May 2020.
 
Our primary care support team is preparing in several ways, including ensuring both general practices and pharmacies have the knowledge and systems in place to enable the next iteration of electronic prescriptions. Our team will be available to support you with these changes.

 
For more information please visit our Electronic Prescribing page.
 

How can I issue a prescription to a patient following a telehealth consultation?

Western Australia has issued an authorisation under the Public Health Act 2016 to allow pharmacists to dispense from a digital copy of a prescription. This authorisation complements the Commonwealth’s National Health (COVID-19 Supply of Pharmaceutical Benefits) Amendment (Expansion of Telehealth and Telephone Attendances) Special Arrangement 2020.

Prescribers can issue a paper prescription during a telehealth consultation. The prescription must contain all the usual information and be signed. Prescriptions for both Schedule 4 and Schedule 8 medicines can be issued.

The prescriber can:
  • Fax a copy to the patient’s pharmacy of choice
  • Create a clear digital image of the prescription (photo or .pdf), including the eRx barcode (if applicable) and email or text the image to the patient’s pharmacy of choice.
The pharmacist can dispense the full quantity prescribed from the faxed copy or the digital image, for both Schedule 4 and Schedule 8 medicines. For prescriptions for Schedule 8 medicines, the pharmacist must still be satisfied the prescription is authentic, which may require contacting the prescriber.

The usual record keeping and labelling requirements apply.

For Schedule 4 prescriptions, the prescriber does not have to provide the original prescription to the pharmacist. The pharmacist must keep the faxed copy or digital image of the prescription for 2 years and the prescriber must keep the original prescription for the same period.

For Schedule 8 prescriptions, the prescriber must send the original paper prescription to the pharmacy. The pharmacy must receive the original paper prescription within 10 working days of it being written. The pharmacy must keep the faxed copy or the digital image until the original paper prescription is received.

If the faxed copy or digital image of the prescription includes repeats, a repeat form must be generated and attached to a hard copy of the faxed copy or digital image. Repeats must be retained in the pharmacy and cannot be returned to the patient. Retention of repeats is required for both Schedule 4 and Schedule 8 prescriptions.

Read the full Advice here.
 

Which patients can have their medication delivered to their home?

Pharmacies are able to provide one free supply per month to the vulnerable population cohort as defined below or may charge for additional deliveries or may charge for people who do not meet the criteria.
 
The criteria to be met:
  • Patient holds a Medicare or DVA card and are:
    • Isolating themselves at home on the advice of a medical practitioner, for confirmed COVID-19 cases; or
    • Meeting the current national triage protocol criteria for suspected COVID-19 infection after consultation with either the national COVID-19 hotline, state COVID-19 hotlines, a registered medical or nursing practitioner or COVID-19 trained health clinic triage staff; or
    • Aged over 70; or
    • Identify as Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander and are aged over 50; or
    • People with chronic health conditions or who are immunocompromised; or
    • Parents with new babies or people who are pregnant.
    • Patient requires the delivery of at least one PBS or RPBS medication
 
Read the Prescriber fact sheet and Consumer fact sheet.
Practice Assist acknowledges and pays respect to the Traditional Owners and Elders of this country
and recognises the significant importance of their cultural heritage, values and beliefs and how these
contribute to the positive health and wellbeing of the whole community.