Dr Adam Coltzau past president of Rural Doctors of Australia Queensland.
Dr Adam Coltzau past president of Rural Doctors of Australia Queensland.

Retrieval services for COVID-19 victims need to be ramped up

RURAL doctors have grave concerns about the capacity of retrieval services to cope with the surge in demand as COVID-19 cases in rural areas rise.

Rural Doctors Association of Australia president Dr John Hall called on all agencies to maximise their capacity to deal with the retrieval of infectious and seriously ill patients, as well as consider other transport requirements.

“Looking at the numbers that are coming in from overseas, we know that we are going to need two to three times the retrieval capacity than is currently available,” Dr Hall said.

“With the expected surge in seriously unwell COVID-19 cases presenting in rural areas, we are concerned that there will be significant delays in retrieval, leaving these patients ventilated for days in rural hospitals that are not equipped or staffed for this type of care.

“It is entirely possible that we will see coronavirus patients dying while waiting for transfer.”

Queensland Chief Health Officer Jeannette Young said there were four planes on standby, additional to the normal cohort of planes for use in Queensland to rapidly move people if they become positive to coronavirus.

Dr Adam Coltzau, the past president of Rural Doctors of Australia Queensland, said Queensland, and Mackay specifically, was in a better position currently than many other places in Australia.

He said the State Government had responded to the concerns of doctors.

“People of Mackay should feel assured that they are in a relatively good position,” Dr Coltzau said. “Queensland has a centralised co-ordination system for retrieval services such as ambulances and helicopters.”

Mackay residents can be treated at the Base Hospital and from there can be flown for further specialised treatment to Townsville or Brisbane.

It is a different reality for rural Queenslanders, who might be some distance from the nearest hospital to receive immediate medical attention.

“The state also has a plan to double ICU capacity in all hospital and branch districts,” Dr Coltzau said.

However, he warned that the situation could change should the number of COVID-19 cases surge and medical services be swamped.

“It’s imperative to flatten the curve now to prevent this by staying at home, socially distancing and only going out for exercise, medical services, work or shopping,” he said.