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COVID-19 – an update from Dr Nicola Kettleton-Butler


9 March, 2020

Hi Everyone,

This is just a quick update about the evolving coronavirus situation, or COVID-19 to be precise.

We’re well ahead of the public health advice

Saltwater Medical has been taking action behind the scenes since early January based on our business continuity and pandemic plans to ensure that patient and staff safety are front and center. I believe we have been ahead of public health advice to date, and we intend to continue to stay ahead in order to protect our patients, our staff and the ability of our facility to remain operating in the coming weeks and months.

The most visible steps we have taken to date are the screening protocols which you may have encountered with our reception team in recent weeks. To date, any suspected cases that have met the government criteria for suspected COVID-19 have been redirected to the the Sunshine Coast University Hospital Emergency Department or the Caloundra Minor Injuries and Illness clinic, as we do not have the isolation infrastructure (for example spare room with separate entry etc.), nor the stocks of personal protective equipment to safely perform consultations in accordance with the advice from the government health authorities.

The challenge as our local cold and flu season kicks off
Given it is now obvious that the coronavirus is spreading between contacts in Australia with no travel history, it is going to become increasingly difficult to distinguish between the common cold or flu and a case of possible coronavirus.

This is why we have made the decision to make a change to our patient flow at Saltwater Medical, on the basis that we do not have the luxury of an isolation room and separate entrance. As a matter of fact, there are very few general practices that actually do have the luxury of these sorts of facilities.

Keeping sick patients separate from well patients
Essentially, until further notice, we’ll be running a car park ‘flu clinic’ in a temporary structure at the rear of our building, whereby any patient presenting with cold and flu-like symptoms – fever, cough, runny nose, or difficulty breathing – but that DOES NOT have a travel history or contact with a confirmed coronavirus case – will be seen in this temporary facility in our rear carpark.

It sounds a bit odd I know, but rest assured, ‘car park’ clinics like these have been utilised very effectively the past, as they allow GPs to better isolate and manage unwell patients. I believe they will become more and more common over the coming weeks as the primary health system responds to COVID-19 with limited resources and facilities.

Reception triage
Until further notice, all patients will continue to be screened by our reception team when making an appointment (including appointments made online). Please don’t be offended when our team asks if you have ‘flu-like’ symptoms, or about your travel history, and please be honest when booking your appointment, as it’s important we are able to look after you AND protect other patients and staff by following excellent infection control procedures.

Our reception team will be able to provide more details relevant to your particular situation, so please feel free to call us.

What will happen and what else can you do?
On a separate note, I believe it is now only a matter of time before COVID-19 is widespread in our community. We are not particularly alarmed by the illness itself, as it is most likely to produce a mild cold or flu-like illness, but it does have the potential to become a very serious illness in a small percentage of cases – particularly our elderly folk. As it spreads, it’s very important we all to do our bit to minimise the impact on our fellow citizens and help reduce the inevitable pressure this will put on our health system. So, for these reasons, it’s critical that we all prepare and implement strategies to protect ourselves and vulnerable groups in society – especially our elderly population.

The very best thing we can all do right now is help slow and limit the spread of the virus.

This means that sick people need to follow good respiratory etiquette
This includes:

  • Covering your mouth and nose with a tissue when you sneeze or cough
  • Or, sneeze or cough into your elbow – not your hands
  • Disposing of all tissues into the rubbish bin, and
  • Washing your hands thoroughly with soap and water or hand sanitizer
  • Wearing a mask and self-isolating if you are symptomatic or unwell

Well people need to exercise reasonable precautions
Well-people need to also implement changes to protect themselves, and the very best one you can adopt is to wash your hands regularly.

And I’m not talking a quick swish under the tap either. We’re talking wetting your hands, adding liquid soap, then performing a thorough rub of all surfaces of your hands, like this: palm to palm, back of hands, base of thumbs, fingers interlocked, back of wrists, and fingernails, all while singing happy birthday to yourself twice under your breath! That’s how long the procedure should take.

Then make sure you dry your hands thoroughly either using an air dyer or disposable paper towels.

How is COVID-19 spread?
COVID-19, along with other flu viruses, is transmitted via droplets. In a nutshell, infected people cough into hands, touch a surface – think money, shopping trolley, door handles, escalators, ATMs – then you come along, touch that surface, then touch your mouth, nose or eyes, and hey presto, you’ve got the virus!

Shaking hands and toilet paper shortages
Other common-sense measures to take include avoiding hand shaking (let’s make giving a salute, fist bump or a wave popular again), and minimising hand contact with hard surfaces in public areas. Some might also argue at the moment that you need to stock up on toilet paper and other essentials as well. But I prefer to think most of you have the common-sense to know that we are living in a first-world country, and that even if temporary supply disruptions occur, they will be short-lived, and we’ve all got the wherewithal to improvise in the meantime, should the need arise! 😉

Stay in the loop with our Facebook page and our website
Please keep an eye on our Facebook page and our website for updates, as we will post updates whenever there is important information we feel needs to be shared regarding our practice operations or the evolving health situation.

Thanks for your patience – we appreciate the trust you have placed in us
Our response to COVID-19 to date has been thorough, proportionate and has one goal at the centre – that is the safety and care of our patients and staff.

Jen, myself and the team have all been doing a lot of work behind the scenes to prepare for, and respond, as this event unfolds. All we ask is that you continue to trust us to care for your health, wash your hands regularly, self-isolate if you are unwell, look after your fellow humans, and please be understanding about demands on our service during this time. We will always be doing the very best we can – that I can promise you.

Thanks for tuning in.

Dr Nicola Kettleton-Butler | Practice Principal, Saltwater Medical