The health package forms part of a broader Federal Government response to the outbreak. (ABC News: Matt Roberts)
The Federal Government is pouring $2.4 billion into the healthcare sector in a bid to better prepare Australia for a major coronavirus outbreak.
The money is part of the Government’s multi-billion-dollar response to the spread of COVID-19, which has already led to fatalities in Australia.
It comes after the Government announced it had struck a billion-dollar deal with the states and territories to help cover the public health costs associated with treating coronavirus.
So, where is the rest of the money going?
Money to help people get health advice
There’s no need for alarm or panic if you just have flu symptoms, according to chief medical officer Brendan Murphy.
He only wants people getting tested if they have recently travelled overseas or have been in contact with someone who has contracted coronavirus.
You can call the Coronavirus Health Information Line on 1800 020 080 or the Health Direct Helpline on 1800 022 222 if you have any concerns.
The Federal Government has injected an extra $50 million in funding to boost staff numbers so that phone calls are answered promptly.
A $30 million health campaign will also be rolled out soon to provide practical advice on how Australians can keep healthy and what to do if you fall ill.
About 80 per cent of people who contract coronavirus will only have mild symptoms and will not need ongoing medical care.
To ensure hospitals and local GPs aren’t overwhelmed, the Federal Government is providing $206.7 million to set up respiratory clinics.
They will be a one-stop shop where people who are concerned about coronavirus can seek medical advice and get tested.
Some of these clinics have already been established across the states, including a drive-through clinic in South Australia.
The Federal Government says it’s in discussions with the primary health networks about where additional clinics should be set up.
Testing for coronavirus
About 20,000 Australians have been tested for coronavirus and there are just over 100 confirmed cases
There will now be a dedicated Medicare-funded and bulk-billed pathology test that will check for COVID-19 and the flu.
The Federal Government estimates this will cost $170 million, while additional money will also be made available to ensure the elderly can be tested from the comfort of their nursing homes.
Are there enough staff to look after the elderly?
The Australian Nursey and Midwifery Association has raised concerns that the aged care sector is already understaffed.
It has warned there won’t be enough workers to care for the elderly if a major outbreak was to occur.
The Federal Government insists that additional aged care staff will be sent to facilities when needed, and has announced $101 million for nursing homes to hire workers and train staff in infection control.
As to where the extra staff will come from, federal Health Minister Greg Hunt told AM that several options are being considered.
“We are looking at medical staff that have been part-time or out of the workforce for a time to either upgraded their hours or consider requalifying,” he said.
Protecting Australians from coronavirus
Medical researchers across the world, including in Australia, are working on finding a vaccine for coronavirus but it isn’t expected to be available for at least a year.
The new federal health funding package includes $30 million for vaccine, anti-viral and respiratory medicine research.
It also includes $1.1 billion for buying equipment to protect health care staff and patients.
This includes protective gear such as face masks, surgical gowns, goggles and hand sanitiser, as well as purchasing more antibiotics and antivirals for the national medical stockpile that can be given to patients who contract secondary infections as a result of COVID-19.
GP appointments via phone
Health authorities want to try and reduce the risk of some people contracting coronavirus, so the Federal Government is spending $100 million to fund a new Medicare service.
It means vulnerable members of the community will now have the option of speaking to their doctor over the phone, with the consult being bulk-billed.
The service will be offered to people with chronic conditions, those over the age of 70, Indigenous people over the age of 50, pregnant women and new parents with babies.
This will only be made available for those considered at greater risk and for non-coronavirus consultations.
What happens if I’m required to stay home and run out of prescription medication?
Technology will be used to allow vulnerable people or those self-quarantining (such as the elderly or those with a chronic disease) fill out their prescriptions if they run out of medicine.
Patients can request their scripts via an online service or phone and then have them delivered to their home.
The Federal Government estimates it will cost $30 million.