In last month’s damning Four Corners report on Victoria’s hotel quarantine failures the testimony of Australian Medical Association (AMA) Victorian president, Julian Rait, stood out:
JULIAN RAIT, PRESIDENT OF THE AUSTRALIAN MEDICAL ASSOCIATION (VICTORIA): Well I was hearing from frontline emergency staff that they had concerns about the arrangements for transport of positive patients from the quarantine hotels who were getting medical checks at the emergency rooms. And so the concern they had was about the transfer arrangements. Often they could be transferred in the appropriate ambulance but would need to find their own way back to the hos- to the hotels themselves. And that would obviously either involve either, uh, a taxi, an Uber, or even, uh, prevailing upon family members…
We had a whole host of concerns around how the hotel quarantine system was being managed in terms of resourcing and also in terms of the protocols being used, of which infection control was one of the issues we raised. And, uh, we were obviously disappointed that, uh, those suggestions, uh, given in good faith, were not subsequently followed…
Well I was very concerned that we were going to find escalating levels of community transmission because I was aware, of course, that many of these people who were employed in security, of course are on a minimum wage. They also had a number of different types of jobs in the community, and as a result of that they would move freely through different types of work places…
PAT McGRATH, REPORTER: (To Julian Rait) So how would you characterize Victoria’s public health response to this pandemic?
JULIAN RAIT, PRESIDENT OF THE AUSTRALIAN MEDICAL ASSOCAITON (VICTORIA) Well, it’s been inadequate, clearly. And the reason that that’s been the case is because it’s been woefully under resourced and compared to other states, it’s just a fraction of the resources that they’ve deployed.
STEPHANIE MARCH: The AMA says the Victorian health department has been weakened by years of budget cuts and restructuring.
JULIAN RAIT, PRESIDENT OF THE AUSTRALIAN MEDICAL ASSOCIATON (VICTORIA): I think we’ve known for many years that the particularly the public health teams have been underfunded and under resourced in Victoria, and also the Department of Health and Human Services which was formed in 2015, really has what I would call a dysfunctional and byzantine organizational architecture so this has kind of given rise to I think the situation we’ve seen here…
Many of the health officers that have been seconded from other states to assist Victoria have noticed how much or how much further behind Victoria is compared to other states in terms of their IT preparedness for a pandemic. It seems to me that you know, Victoria and the Department of Health and Human Services has almost like a fax machine style IT capability, compared to a more contemporary one that we see in other states.
Julian Rait has taken his criticisms one step further, providing a submission to the state parliamentary inquiry into the government’s response to the pandemic calling for a royal commission into Victoria’s bungled COVID-19 response, which Rait says resembles a “slow car crash”:
Some of the mistakes Dr Rait highlighted included:
– Allowing Black Lives Matter protests to go ahead, resulting in the “public perception of tolerance of large demonstrations”.
– The mismanaged of the hotel quarantine system.
– Poor or non-existent communication of health messages to non-English speaking communities.
– Delays in notifying confirmed COVID-19 cases and issues with contact tracing.
– Inconsistent guidelines.
– A lack of transparency and accountability.
Dr Rait said the state’s bungled hotel quarantine program was “by far” the largest problem in the Victoria’s COVID-19 response.
“This mismanagement is one of the most disappointing aspects of the state government’s response to the pandemic,” he wrote.
“Furthermore, it remains unclear which Minister and which department was fundamentally responsible for operating hotel quarantine.
“No explanation has been given why the scheme was not supervised by DHHS or why the offer of assistance from the Federal Government to deploy the Australian Defence Force to enforce quarantine was rejected.”
The AMA ended the submission by calling for a Royal Commission into Victoria’s response to the pandemic.
I’m not sure if a Royal Commission is necessary given there is already a state parliamentary inquiry as well as a COVID-19 Hotel Quarantine Inquiry underway. Surely these will get to the heart of the issues.