‘Whatever it takes’: GP clinic to charge unvaccinated patients for masks


imageLaunceston GP clinic to charge unvaccinated patients to cover COVID protection costs

A Launceston GP clinic is planning to charge unvaccinated patients to cover the cost of their own protective gear when borders reopen next month.

Key points:

– From December 15, patients at the Summerdale Medical Centre will have to wear masks, and unvaccinated people will be charged to cover their costs

– GPs say anxiety levels are rising among staff ahead of Tasmania’s borders re-opening

– The state government is expected to provide guidelines for businesses on dealing with COVID-19 cases next week

The Summerdale Medical Practice is introducing new protocols to decrease the chance of COVID-19 entering its business, saying it can not afford to close.

From [December 15 when borders reopen](/news/2021-11-05/tasmania-changes-covid-pre-travel-test-rules-for-december-plan/100596952) , unvaccinated patients who must enter the practice will be charged $10 to cover the cost of a surgical mask and goggles, and any extra cleaning needed.

It is also planning to make all patients wear a surgical mask.

It will also initially offer only phone consults for those not yet vaccinated against the virus, and for those with respiratory illness.

Clinic co-owner Dr Don Rose said GPs were still awaiting advice from the state government on how to deal with COVID-19 cases, and wanted to notify patients of changes as early as possible.

“We’re trying to prepare for the unknown.Our main goal is to stay open even if we become a COVID exposure site,” he said.

Anxiety rising ahead of border opening

Modelling from the Kirby Institute shows that in the first 200 days after reopening there will be around [52,000 cases of COVID-19 and 87 COVID-related deaths in Tasmania](/news/2021-10-23/tasmanian-border-reopening-worries-health-unions/100562196) .

Dr Rose said the prospect of COVID-19 entering the community was raising anxiety and stress levels among GP staff.

“There’s huge anxiety.Many doctors, nurses and receptionists have young children who can’t get vaccinated yet,” he said.

“They dread the thought they might contract COVID at work and take it home to their family.”

Despite having higher vaccination rates than the state’s regional areas, [Tasmania’s cities and urban areas will likely experience the first outbreaks of the virus.](/news/2021-11-18/where-is-tasmanias-first-covid-outbreak-likely-after-reopening/100626542)

“The staff and patients need protection and that’s why we’re going overboard about trying to make sure we don’t get COVID in our facility,” he said.

“We can’t close down.If we close down, there’s suddenly a whole lot of people who can’t access our services.

We will do whatever it takes [to stay open].”

GPs wanting more government advice

The state government is yet to release guidelines on how businesses should respond if a case of COVID-19 enters their premises.

Dr Rose said the earlier GPs had those details, the better, saying it was “getting pretty close to the line now.”

“We’ve had to order (PPE) not really knowing if we need it because we just have to make sure we have everything ready by the end of December,” he said.

“We want to see the guidelines to see what triggers a shutdown or a furlough of staff.

“We hope they will organise fit testing of masks to make sure they don’t leak.We are also still not sure what our involvement will be in terms of managing COVID-positive people at home.”

‘Clarity’ on rules for businesses next week

Premier Peter Gutwein said public health would provide more information for businesses next week.

“We intend to provide detailed information in terms of testing, tracking, isolation, and quarantine measures that will be in place from December 15 so businesses have absolute clarity in terms of what they need to do should they have a case,” he said.

“I would refer any business, including a general practitioner or any other health service, to follow the COVID safety plan that’s already been agreed and is in place.”

The Australian Medical Association Tasmania’s Annette Barratt said Primary Health Tasmania would hold another meeting next week with GPs ahead of the government releasing its guidelines.

“We still have enough time to prepare as long as they come out soon,” she said.

“We’d like them to come out this week or next week at the latest so GPs have time to put things in place.”

However, even once the guidelines are released, she said it was highly likely general practice clinics across Tasmania would have different rules in place.

“GPs are entitled to interpret things the way they see as long as they follow the basic guidelines,” she said.

“None of (what Summerdale Medical Practice has put in place) is unreasonable; it’s just an extension of things being applied for that practice.”

Spot checks only for COVID vaccination

The Premier has conceded that not every person who enters the state from COVID hotspots will have their vaccination status checked when the state’s borders reopen.

From December 15, overseas travellers and those from domestic hotspots will be able to enter the state without quarantining, provided they are fully vaccinated and have returned a negative COVID test within 72 hours of travel.

But Mr Gutwein said it won’t be possible for officers to check every traveller has met those requirements, with spot checks to occur instead.

Fines will also be applied as a deterrent.

“Obviously at the airport we’ll be seeing thousands of people coming through, it will not be possible to stop every person,” he said.

“I expect we’ll see a heavy police presence, as well as Biosecurity Tasmania, at our airports and seaports in the weeks after the border opens, but it will be done on a spot check audit basis.”

Shadow Health Minister Anita Dow said it was “vital” that everyone’s vaccination status was checked and said the government needed to clarify whether the decision not to was based on health advice.

“The government have had long enough to design this process and invest in the technology and the workforce required to check people’s vaccination status quickly and accurately,” she said.

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