President’s Blog: Storm Warning | AMA (WA)

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President’s Blog: Storm Warning

Friday June 3, 2022

Dr Mark Duncan-Smith

When you’ve been sounding the alarm and telling people to batten down the hatches, it’s based on the best advice that a storm is on its way.  

So, what if it all blows over?  

In a sense, for the people of WA, a health crisis has been averted, with the peak of 20-25,000 daily cases, predicted by the Chief Health Officer, not being realised. 

Of course, that’s little comfort to the many families who have lost, and continue to lose loved ones since the second peak, after most public health measures were removed by the McGowan Government on 29 April. 

The Premier accused me of being a doomsayer for continually suggesting that health measures, particularly mask wearing, should be reinstated if cases went up again and the health system was at risk. 

It shows that I was doing my job. Without the AMA (WA) drawing attention to potential risks and the seriousness of outcomes, a government with the kind of mandate achieved at the last State Election by Labor might consider themselves a law unto themselves. 

On Wednesday, a range of public health measures were phased out. The Government removed the unvaccinated international arrivals cap, as well as the seven-day quarantine requirement for returning unvaccinated Australians and permanent residents. 

From 10 June, only those working with the most vulnerable will require triple-dose vaccination to enter their workplace: healthcare and health support workers in hospitals and primary healthcare settings; workers in residential aged care; and workers in residential disability settings. 

There is still some flexibility for public sector agencies going forward regarding employer requirements, depending on the needs of their workplaces. 

In addition, from June 15, Directions to restrict access to Remote Aboriginal Communities will be removed. 

I’m supportive of these changes. With almost universal first and second vaccinations, and more than 80 per cent of the WA population boosted, it seems people are well and truly getting the message that boosting protects you 98 per cent against getting severe disease. Western Australians should be congratulated for their common-sense approach, leading to world-leading vaccination rates. 

On that basis, further easing of public health measures won’t make a substantial difference to the number of COVID-19 cases.  

I’d also suggested careful monitoring of hospitalisations arising from COVID, especially above a threshold of 300-350 cases. With hospitalisations dipping below 300, that danger might also have passed. Nevertheless, with the month just past the worst May on record for ramping, you wouldn’t exactly wish greater hospitalisations on your very worst enemy.  

The spectre of influenza now looms, having not had an outbreak for a couple of years, and general immunity down, as seen on the eastern seaboard. The Government’s free flu jabs in June is to be applauded, and hopefully Western Australians show the same appetite for this jab as their COVID ones. 

As you will read elsewhere in Med e-link, the AMA (WA), along with the RACGP, played a substantial role in ensuring that GPs were properly compensated for implementation of the program. 

The constructive and dogged work of Dr’s Mary Wyatt and Simon Torvaldsen epitomises the importance of the AMA (WA)’s advocacy. It’s unheralded for the most part, requires attention to detail and concentration at countless meetings, but it yields the kind of results that make a material difference to our members, and therefore, the community. We should be extremely proud of such exemplary members, and the many others working behind the scenes, today, tonight, tomorrow and the next day (well, perhaps they can take a breath over the WA Day long weekend!) 

So, happy to say, it’s highly unlikely that we need to return to public health measures in the current environment, but we still need to be watchful for further outbreaks. As I told the ABC during an interview, it’s really about surveillance now. I make no apologies, to Mr McGowan or anyone else, for keeping my eyes open and sounding the alarm as I see fit on behalf of the State’s largest independent professional organisation for medical practitioners and medical students.