I would like to take the opportunity to raise a few key points for you to consider in your deliberations for this Inquiry. I note you are looking for concise submissions, hence I will limit our response to key themes the Alliance has noted from our members and other stakeholders. Our rurally focussed content relates collectively to the following terms of reference for this Inquiry:
Key health response measures (e.g. across COVID-19 vaccinations and treatments, key medical supplies such as personal protective equipment, quarantine facilities and public health messages).
Broader health support for people impacted by COVID-19 and/or lockdowns (for example, mental health and suicide prevention support and access to screening and other preventive health measures).
Personal Protective Equipment
- At times, personal protective equipment (PPE) was in short supply during the pandemic, and more was needed for rural students. Universities were forced to access their own PPE. Universities did not have access to distributors and, therefore, bought PPE that was not always approved in the clinical setting or did not fit appropriately. Many general practices could not access extra PPE for students, and it was expensive to buy.
- All students and staff needed to undertake mask fit testing – that is, determination of the mask that fits best on the face to protect COVID-19. There were delays in students being fit tested as some universities did not have facilities and had to rely on the acute care sector for testing. Some students missed placement due to delays with testing.
- Pharmacists also experienced PPE supply issues.
- In future pandemics, timely and affordable access to PPE by all health professionals in all parts of the health sector, including students, should be considered.
- Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Practitioners and the RFDS played a vital role in the vaccination program during the pandemic. The utilisation of these health practitioners to provide vaccination in communities was key to the high uptake and protection of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities, particularly in remote areas.
- The reduced workforce in rural locations means that in a pandemic or other disaster situations, all health professionals must be able to work to the full scope of practice. Policy settings and program guidelines must ensure health professionals with the relevant training - such as nurses, nurse practitioners and pharmacists - can deliver appropriately and equitably funded services that fall within their scope and have access to adequate supplies. It is essential that regulatory or bureaucratic barriers in this context do not constrain practice.