A formal apology for Dr Chris Higgins, improved transparency and support regarding covid19
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To all our Ministers,
Today, it is with great dismay that I read the news about your colleague, Victorian Health Minister Jenny Mikakos, stating that she is “absolutely flabbergasted that the doctor who has experienced flu-like symptoms has presented to work”. This flippant remark, as well as another comment she made about involving AHPRA shows a complete disrespect and lack of understanding of the pressures that our primary health care providers and hospital staff face every day.
You should note that shaming the afflicted General Practitioner publicly has resulted in an unjustified social media witch hunt. As reported, the GP had returned from the USA, which at the time was not considered an at-risk country; his symptom of a “runny nose” is a non-specific symptom which in itself is not on the government’s symptom list for SARS-Cov2 virus. If he had contacted his local public health unit for advice, he would have been told to self-monitor and to present for testing only if he went on to develop further symptoms.
Ms Jenny Mikakos stating that GPs in this country are "fully supported and resourced" during this crisis is nothing short of a lie. There is much confusion for health care professionals and the public due to inconsistent advice from local public health units which, are very likely receiving conflicting advice themselves. There has been overwhelming lack of government support in providing Personal Protective Equipment (PPEs) to GPs who work at the coalface of health care, and yet, the public is being unanimously advised to contact their GPs if they felt unwell. Is this not an unwise directive given how contagious this disease is? There has been minimal discussion about the appropriate supportive arrangements required for GPs to support their communities adequately during this viral outbreak. And what should happen if the GPs themselves fell ill? Who will replace them as primary health care providers in the communities?
As for staying at home when feeling unwell, if you were to speak with any doctor in either primary health care or in a hospital service, you would hear first-hand how difficult it is to obtain relief cover when a staff member must take sick leave. Too often many of us work with no relief cover, and through our good will, shoulder the extra work burden when a colleague is unwell enough to be away, or indeed when any form of leave has to be taken.
You must be aware that our GPs run as small private businesses and cannot afford to take sick leave lightly. There is also the guilt from not wanting to let our patients down by cancelling appointments, especially when appointments with trusted GPs can be very difficult to come by. Ms Mikakos’s public remarks implying that a health care professional would wilfully infect our patients by working when unwell, reflect her lack of understanding of an overburdened health system, which is already contributing to a high rate of burn out and an escalating suicide rate in the medical profession.
Given that all of us health care professionals work in clinical settings where we are more commonly exposed to pathogens than the average person in the community, it should come as no surprise that we would be at greater risk than others of getting sick. However, the health care system is so under-resourced that there is minimal slack in the system for health care workers to take sick leave when they actually need it. Many of us working in health care are people of great compassion and conscientiousness, and as we have little power to change the system in which we work, we simply soldier on when faced with minor illnesses that do not completely incapacitate us; we do this for our sick patients, and also for our already over-burdened colleagues.
I hope Ms Mikakos realizes what an unfair statement she has made, and how cruel she has been to a person who set out to work as a doctor in service to his community as best as he could. She has so clearly demonstrated her ignorance of the health system which she is Minister of. In fact, she should issue a formal apology for her ill-planned remarks.
Ministers, I write to all of you hoping that you will not repeat the same error as she has. Many clinical health care staff go far and beyond their official job duties to provide care to our community as best as we can, within whatever finite resources we have. We do not need to be made scapegoats at this time when it is important for all of us as a community to work together to ensure everyone stays safe and well.
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