Fear of COVID shouldn’t put other patient lives at risk
Can you imagine being in a position where the care your doctors were providing you was being complicated by arbitrary lines on a map?
But that seems to be exactly what happened to a northern NSW woman who lost one of her twin babies this past week.
How must she be feeling? That question that will haunt her family - what if?
Kimberley Brown, who required surgery due to a rare pregnancy condition called twin-to-twin transfusion syndrome, had to wait for 17 hours for an emergency flight to Sydney earlier this month to have an urgent procedure.
Heartbreakingly, one of her babies died last Wednesday, leaving the family to wonder what might have been had a faster transfer been made to Brisbane so that the procedure could happen sooner.
Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk and Chief Health Officer Dr Jeannette Young are adamant that all emergency cases to Queensland will be accepted.
That may well be true. But this case is just the latest in a string that doctors and patients have been raising, so something's not working.
It is patently obvious there is confusion at hospitals about what the rules are around who can come into Queensland and what constitutes an emergency that is adversely impacting decisions being made.
If there wasn't confusion, this woman's doctors would have sent her to Brisbane. They have said as much.
"While the preferred location for the family to give birth was at a hospital in Brisbane, under the Queensland Border Direction at the time, the woman and her partner would have had to quarantine in a government hotel for 14 days, at their own expense, prior the procedure," Northern NSW Local Health chief executive Wayne Jones said.
"Following discussion with Royal Prince Alfred specialists in Sydney, the woman travelled to Sydney for the procedure where she would not be required to quarantine."
It's simply not good enough for Queensland authorities to throw up their hands and say the family never filled out an exemption form, or for Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk to crow about how "people living in NSW they have NSW hospitals, in Queensland we have Queensland hospitals for our people".
However scary COVID is, how can we say we can only look after people who live within our borders because the risk from everyone else is too great?
People from northern NSW are not COVID-riddled monsters.
If we can put in place rules to allow truck drivers to come over the border every day of the week, where are the clear rules for medical cases to come?
The Premier has repeatedly said that COVID is here for the long run, that life is changed and it won't be going back to normal any time soon.
Why then, haven't we developed clear guidelines for situations such as this to help us live in this new normal?
How much time is there for exemption paperwork in these situations? Dr Young has already said she's got exemption requests coming out of her ears, most of which she isn't granting.
Why aren't there guidelines to help doctors figure out whether a case will be accepted? What constitutes an emergency? What constitutes a case too high risk for COVID?
Doctors are calling for a better approach.
They understand these are "unprecedented times", but common sense has to remain.
You should be treated in the closest hospital that has the facilities to treat you and mechanisms should be in place to make sure the transfer and treatment is COVID-safe.
After all, Ms Palaszczuk's assertion that Queensland hospitals are for Queenslanders isn't 100 per cent accurate considering that a good portion of hospital funding comes from the Commonwealth - that's Australian taxpayers, not just Queenslanders.
The Rural Doctors Association of Australia president Dr John Hall accuses the Queensland Government outright of playing politics with its border restrictions before an election at the cost of interstate patients.
"State premiers don't have the luxury of saying people across the border can't use our hospitals," he says.
"It's certainly political. There's high levels of community satisfaction with premiers being tough on borders and particularly as we approach a state election in Queensland, they are leveraging off that."
It seems that tough-talking message has been heard by doctors, whether intentional or not.
COVID has caused so many deaths worldwide. It's robbed us of loved ones, livelihoods, lifestyles. It shouldn't rob us of compassion.
We cannot find ourselves in a situation where the threat of a COVID death means that people might die of something else instead.
The government needs to fix this.
Originally published as Fear of COVID shouldn't put other patient lives at risk