Public health authorities in Victoria have declared a ‘code brown’ emergency across all Melbourne public hospitals and major regional hospitals as the Omicron wave heaps pressure on the system.
A code brown scenario is usually called by a health service or by an individual hospital when additional capability and capacity needs to be mobilised in order to receive an influx of patients.
The code brown settings are usually used for large transport accidents, chemical spills and natural emergencies such as fires and floods.
When these events occur, a high demand for particular resources such as emergency departments, intensive care and operating theatres can be addressed using code brown measures.
This is the first time the emergency declaration has been made by a state government at a system-wide level.
“We’ve been saying for some time that our hospital system is under extreme pressure and the risks we’re seeing now in hospitalisations are testament to that,” Victorian deputy premier James Merlino said in a press conference.
“We’ve reached a point in our health system where it’s juggling severe workforce shortages.
“It is the right time to do it now, not wait for a Code Brown until two or three weeks down the track when we’re seeing the impact of the peak of Omicron hospitalisations and ICU patients.”
Paul Gilbert, assistant secretary at the Australian Nursing and Midwifery Federation’s Victorian branch, says the code brown declaration does not go far enough and wants the federal government to deploy military support.
“We are in a crisis and we need a crisis intervention,” he says. “This is one clear source of additional support that we cannot be lacking.”
The sobering news comes as pharmacists warn that issues surrounding the supply of rapid antigen tests (RATs) are not expected to improve until February at the earliest – after the expected peak of the Omicron wave has passed.
Pharmacy wholesaler Sigma Healthcare says it is delivering tens of thousands of RATs to pharmacies across Australia each week, but from next Monday that will increase to several million per week, before rising to tens of millions each week by mid-February.
“Sigma is progressively accessing supply of RATs to distribute to its pharmacy customers, and expects supply to accelerate over the coming weeks to help meet public demand for tests,” a company spokesperson said.
“While Sigma expects supply to increase from next week, the real jump in RAT supply will come in early February.”
The situation has become so concerning for pharmacists that the Pharmacy Guild of Australia (PGA) has announced plans to launch a website to help people find stores with RATs in stock.
“Rather than driving all around or monitoring Facebook accounts or waiting for friends to send a text message, you’ll be able check in real time on that website,” PGA president Professor Trent Twomey told the ABC.
“Pharmacies will have control over putting up who’s got stock and what stock is available.”
In the meantime, reports of price gouging on RATs continue to pour in from around Australia, with some customers reporting the tests are being sold for as much as $250 each, despite the tests costing between $3.95 and $11.45 wholesale.
The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) has set up a team to specifically investigate RAT price gouging after receiving thousands of complaints.
“At the extreme end, we have received reports or seen media coverage of tests costing up to $500 for two tests through online marketplaces, and over $70 per test through convenience stores, service stations and independent supermarkets, which is clearly outrageous,” ACCC chairman Rod Sims told the The Australian.
“There are several businesses that have repeatedly come to our notice thanks to the information provided by the public. We are asking those businesses to urgently explain the prices they are charging.”
Have you been able to find RATs for a reasonable price? Should the government have been more proactive in securing RAT supplies? Let us know in the comments section below.
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