COVID-19 response commendable at every level—but vulnerabilities need urgent attention

Tuesday, August 11, 2020

In evidence provided today to the Victorian Parliament’s Inquiry into the Response to the COVID-19 Pandemic, Australian Healthcare and Hospitals Association (AHHA) Chief Executive Alison Verhoeven acknowledged the enormous efforts being made at every level of our health system—from healthcare staff to our public health and political leaders.

‘But while the low COVID case numbers during the initial months of the pandemic enabled capacity to be built up in the system, we are now seeing vulnerabilities in the response which require urgent attention’, says Ms Verhoeven.

‘New information and research findings are constantly emerging, and in this continually-changing situation it’s important that this latest evidence is taken into account as quickly as possible.

‘Improving infection control is particularly important, given that we are sending workers into high-risk situations when we don’t yet understand all of the long-term effects of this disease.’

In her evidence to the Inquiry, Ms Verhoeven highlighted opportunities to improve infection control training, particularly for staff with limited experience—not only in aged care, but also in hospital settings.

She noted that more attention needed to be paid to isolation and testing when staff move from working in COVID units to work in other hospital units.

Likewise, communication and action procedures and protocols need tightening—delays of several days between identifying cases in aged care and subsequent testing of other residents and staff were unacceptable.

Availability of personal protective equipment (PPE) has been mixed—while some hospitals have been over-supplied, others are under-supplied, with similar situations occurring in primary care, allied health and aged care.

‘There is growing evidence that airborne transmission is problematic—yet many health care workers treating people who have tested positive, or working where there is a high risk of exposure, do not have access to P2 (N95) masks. Many have also not received appropriate training or been fit-tested’, Ms Verhoeven said.

‘Advice from both Commonwealth and state authorities has not always been clear, timely or consistent; and sometimes has changed at very short notice. This has made it difficult for organisations to respond effectively—not just in the health sector but elsewhere.  

‘Looking more broadly, the primary care sector needs to be better engaged in the response—this requires better sharing of information with GPs and Primary Health Networks, for example in relation to hospital discharge and testing results. 

‘There is also an opportunity to better use the information available from primary care providers, such as patient data, to support predictive modelling and risk stratification of population groups. This will enable a more targeted long-term response to COVID-19, which may be with us for years.

‘Finally, while this inquiry is focusing on the response from the Victorian Government, the Australian Government must also be held accountable for some of the challenges currently being experienced in Victoria and to a lesser extent, New South Wales.  With responsibility for national border control, aged care and primary care, it is not helpful for senior Australian Government leaders to be finger-pointing at state governments or refusing to respond to concerns. 

‘We all need to be in this together, as a nation and as communities, if we are to protect the health of everyone.’


The Australian Healthcare and Hospitals Association is the national peak body for public and not-for-profit hospitals, Primary Health Networks, and community and primary healthcare services.


Media enquiries: Alison Verhoeven, Chief Executive, AHHA, 0403 282 501