Top Northern Territory doctors write letter calling for…

Top Northern Territory doctors write letter calling for...

Top Northern Territory doctors write letter calling for…

Updated March 18, 2020 14:50:27

Six of the Northern Territory’s top medical professionals have written a letter to the NT’s chief health officer, calling for “immediate action” to minimise the impact of coronavirus on vulnerable Territorians.

Key points:

  • A group of NT doctors have made recommended 13 measures to help deal with the coronavirus pandemic
  • The recommendations include suspending dental services and elective surgery
  • For the latest advice on coronavirus from NT authorities click here

The letter has been signed by the Royal Darwin Hospital’s [RDH] acting director of anaesthesia Andrew Fenton, director of emergency medicine Didier Palmer, women, children and youth medical co-director Kathryn Roberts, surgery and critical care medical co-director Mahiban Thomas, ICU director Paul Goldrick and medicine medical co-director Nadarajah Kangaran.

“Critical-care teams across the globe are reeling from the overwhelming number of patients now requiring ICU and ventilation,” it reads.

“There is a strong sense of regret that these health systems (Italy/Washington State/Holland among others) did not make fast and better decisions.

“Australia is only weeks behind this development.

“The NT population is doubly vulnerable and its critical-care resources more finite than other Australian jurisdictions.

“Once we see active COVID respiratory failure in [Royal Darwin Hospital] and in ICU, we will be a short number of weeks from exceeding capacity.”

The letter goes on to say the best way to protect the Territory’s most vulnerable people and maintain a functional health workforce is to reduce the risk now.

It recommends 13 items that need “immediate action” and another three that need action in two weeks.

‘Immediate actions’ needed

According to the letter, “immediate actions” which should be taken include standing down the medical school, halting dental services and suspending all elective surgery except life or limb-preserving elective surgery.

It also recommends suspending meetings with interstate representatives except by teleconference, and preparing and training for a “30-bedded ICU”.

Speaking to ABC Darwin this morning, Australian Medical Association NT president Robert Parker said he hoped chief health officer Hugh Heggie took “very serious notice” of the recommendations.

“This is the entire senior leadership group at Royal Darwin Hospital and they’re very up to date with information about COVID-19 and have been in the Territory a long time, so they know the local health system,” he said.

“You couldn’t get a more senior or informed group.”

Dr Parker said in light of the serious nature of the pandemic, the recommendations were sensible.

“This is a major crisis and the very unfortunate situation in Italy and Spain currently just shows us what happens if you don’t take drastic measures,” he said.

“These senior clinicians are very much informed about what happens in this situation if you don’t do something, especially with our really vulnerable populations in the Territory.”

Dr Parker said if coronavirus got into the NT’s homeless communities or into a remote community it would be a disaster.

“If it does get into remote and rural communities, our Indigenous populations and we’re very much at risk for this virus because of the high risk of comorbidity, of diabetes, respiratory illness, cardiac disease,” he said.

Your questions on coronavirus answered:

Staff should be screened in weeks ahead, doctors say

The letter also recommends three additional measures which should be taken in the next two weeks: screening staff; putting a surgeon and anaesthetist in Katherine and Gove with required equipment; and stopping all teaching and education programs except those related to COVID-19.

NT deputy chief health officer Dianne Stephens, one of five NT Health professionals also copied into the email, said the response was “not required immediately”.

“What you may not know is that further social-distancing measures are currently being discussed at AHPPC [Australian Health Protection Principal Committee],” she said.

“At this stage there remains just one case [of COVID-19] in the NT and we have time to prepare.

“No other country has put in place the early and aggressive measures that Australia has used, so the modelling based on other countries is inaccurate.

“Critical care is on the agenda for AHPPC today, in addition to many other measures, and this advice will be available tomorrow.”

The letter and response were both sent yesterday.

NT ‘preparing for a marathon’

NT Health Minister Natasha Fyles told ABC Radio Darwin this morning the Government was already winding back non-essential services, but did not commit to implementing the 16 recommendations in the letter.

“It might be a matter of some of those ideas are certainty warranted, but not quite now,” she said.

“We are behind the other jurisdictions, we had that one case, a Sydney tourist, but we haven’t seen confirmed cases of coronavirus here in the Territory.

“But what we are doing is preparing for its arrival and our medical professionals are working together.”

Ms Fyles said the NT Government was “preparing for a marathon”.

“We don’t know where or when the coronavirus will arrive in the Northern Territory, is it Central Australia? Is it the Top End?” she said.

“Of course we want to keep that virus out of our remote communities, and we are calling on Territorians, if you are from a remote community, the best place for you is to go home.

“That’s where we can keep you safe, but we’re talking about 80 remote healthcare clinics across the NT, 1.4 million square kilometres.”

Ms Fyles said the Government had “strong plans” to help communities if someone living in a remote region was to test positive to the coronavirus.

She also said the NT’s coronavirus hotline was getting about 900 calls a day.

What the experts are saying about coronavirus:

Topics: health, government-and-politics, medical-sciences, health-policy, travel-health-and-safety, doctors-and-medical-professionals, medical-ethics, medical-research, infectious-diseases-other, diseases-and-disorders, darwin-0800, nt, australia, alice-springs-0870, katherine-0850

First posted March 18, 2020 11:02:09

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