President’s Blog: Flight or fight (or fright) | AMA (WA)


Dr Mark Duncan-Smith | AMA (WA)

President’s Blog: Flight or fight (or fright)

Friday October 8, 2021

Dr Mark Duncan-Smith, AMA (WA) President

Recently I’ve fielded a lot of questions from the media about WA opening up to the rest of the country and the rest of the world. 

When the Federal Government and NSW in particular are talking about international borders opening as soon as November, it’s understandable that many in the world’s most isolated city and this vast state would want to reconnect with those outside. 

However, as a representative of WA’s peak medical group, our role is not to simply accept people’s understandable urge to speed things up. If we did that in our daily practice, our patients would seldom recover from treatment properly, if at all.  

Similarly, we are now asking Western Australians for a little more patience. Ultimately, opening Australia up depends on vaccination rates improving and also COVID-19 pressure. In WA, we’re incredibly fortunate that we have no COVID disease and this buys us time to be able to get the community vaccinated up to well over 80 per cent, if not 90 per cent, so that we don’t get significant death and disease in our population. 

In Singapore they’ve had 80 per cent vaccination and for well over a month they’re up to 2000 new cases a day of COVID in a population of five million. That means we would have about 10,000 cases of COVID a day with a 25 million population. So, to open up at less than 80 per cent is just crazy and certainly we should follow the ANU/UWA guidelines and modelling, which is to aim for 90 per cent vaccination of both adults and children to minimise the risk of excessive death and disease. 

WA is scheduled to hit 80 per cent vaccination of eligible adults over 16 years of age sometime in  December. If we stay closed, if we don’t have any COVID cases, then we certainly should be able to get above 80 per cent in January. We also need to remember that the TGA and ATAGI are looking at childhood vaccination down to five years of age because the studies out of America are showing that Pfizer is safe and effective down to five years of age. 

The problems we face are being exacerbated by business people focused on the bottom line at the expense of the greater good. The CEO of Flight Centre has indicated he wants to mount a legal challenge against WA’s border policy depending on our timetable for removing restrictions. Without getting too overheated on this (doctors have to exercise patience as well), those with power, influence and money should also exercise a social conscience about the outcomes for WA society, whether or not it is affecting their business model. 

It’s not as though our health system is showing sudden signs of being able to cope with an outbreak. We’ve just had the third worst month on record for ambulance ramping, despite the cancellation of elective surgery. The virus is getting close; we’ve got sick patients from a ship and a COVID-positive  diplomat returned from Serbia. Recent examples suggest putting infected people into our hospital system just exposes us to more breaches, with endless bungles in protocols. 

My federal counterpart Dr Omar Khorshid has called on the Federal Government to play its part in addressing the hospital crisis and improve its funding model to support the states. Here’s hoping both levels of government get their act together before long. A hospital crisis piled on a COVID-19 crisis, as many are starting to realise, is the worst of all worlds for the health of our population. 

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