Doctors focused on COVID response

15 Jan 2022

AMA Queensland Council of General Practice chair Dr Maria Boulton


Transcript: AMA Queensland Council of General Practice Chair Dr Maria Boulton, 4BC, Weekends with Spencer Howson, Saturday, 15 January 2022

Subjects: COVID cases in Queensland, COVID Community Pathway, Novak Djokovic, Republic

SPENCER HOWSON:     Now for The Sizzle today. Michael Crutcher, former editor of The Courier-Mail, now works in comms – communications, PR and the like, media training, all those good things - in Brisbane. Michael Crutcher. And Dr Maria Boulton from the Australian Medical Association, she also runs a GP clinic in Brisbane in Windsor. Maria Boulton, hello and welcome and thank you for the Christmas wishes.

[General banter]

SPENCER HOWSON:     So here we are with The Sizzle on the day where the border’s come down. So from one o'clock this morning, unvaccinated, untested, in they come. And the flip of that, of course, is it’s so much easier for us now to travel interstate as well. Maria Boulton, I'll ask you first. Good thing, bad thing, given the number of cases at the moment, what do you reckon?

MARIA BOULTON:       It had to happen, we had to open up our border. And I guess there's no point keeping it closed, given the cases in Queensland. And, you know, it's really good for us because it means that rather than people having to line up for a PCR test or doing a RAT test, they can just come in and those resources can be put to use elsewhere.

SPENCER HOWSON:     It did seem so silly suddenly that we were having 10s of 1000s of cases here, the same down south. This is the point now where we're like a lock in a canal. When the water levels, we can be on a level playing field with down south at this point. And now we can kind of fight it together. Can't we? Michael? Do you think it was the right decision?

MICHAEL CRUTCHER:             Yeah, I'll always defer to Maria for medical opinion, Spencer, I can tell you, but I do think so. I think it gets to a point where we're trying to plan our year in business. And we often go interstate and it's really hard to plan to go interstate because you don't know what's happening. And to get business going to help that side of the economy, I think we need some of that certainty so that we can start to plan ahead. I also think as long as that medical side of it is okay, but like it seems now, other states are getting on with it. I keep reading about the peak of the Omicron variant, which seems to be the focus of media at the moment. When's that going to happen? So that's all going ahead, I just think we have to get on with it.

SPENCER HOWSON:     That's meant to be in a couple of weeks’ time. Maria, you particularly wanted to mention today just what people should do if they have COVID. Because obviously, a lot of a lot of folk now have COVID. And the Chief Health Officer said in the media conference this morning, and I played a clip just before, if you've got symptoms right now, you've probably got COVID, you can let your boss know you're not coming to work, you've got COVID, you don't need to turn up at hospital or phone for an ambulance. On top of that, what's your advice for people who have COVID or think they have COVID?

MARIA BOULTON:       So if you're a healthy adult with no medical conditions, most likely you will get a mild form of the disease, and you're able to manage at home. The people we need to worry about are the people who are at risk of severe disease. So for example, if you're over 65, if you have someone who's under four months, if you have chronic illness, if you're immunosuppressed, or if you're pregnant. So those groups of people, please please, please make sure that you make a phone appointment with your GP.

The rest of the people we need to worry about are the people who are going to deteriorate. So there is a small risk that people will deteriorate. So if you have any shortness of breath, any chest tightness, if you feel faint, if you're not able to keep fluids down or, God forbid, if you have a child who's unresponsive or floppy, you need to get emergency care. Most of us will be okay. But it's those two groups that we need to care for, and GPs are doing that already.

There's been a bit of a pivot because the case numbers started increasing. So what's happening already in the Gold Coast and in Brisbane and places like Emerald, where there's a lot of cases, is that people are contacting their GP, which is great. However, the thing is that we haven't been given any escalation pathways. So if somebody rings us up and says I'm really crook with COVID, we're still ringing the same number that everybody's trying to get through to the hospital. It's something that has us worried and all the GP peak bodies in Queensland have been asking the Government to please give us an escalation pathway, and to please give us some resources because, above all, we need to be at work helping these people with COVID.

SPENCER HOWSON:     Michel Crutcher, how are you approaching COVID at the moment yourself? Like, I'm checking in everywhere still. I've got no idea why now because I don't feel I'm going to get a phone call saying you were in Bunnings on Wednesday, there was a case there. But I'm continuing to do it so that I've got that record. I'm wearing my mask absolutely everywhere. What about you? How adherent are you to the rules at the moment, Michael?

MICHAEL CRUTCHER:             Yeah, I am wearing masks everywhere. And I think Queenslanders are doing a good job at that. I'm checking in, but I'm like you - I don't know why. The Queensland Health website that I've kept an eye on for the super spreader events, in their language, is pretty much always empty. So I mean, it's there. But I'm not even sure who checks that data at the moment, either. I mean, it just seems it's so common now. So yeah, I think people have been really good. And I think this is where audiences in Australia get this. I remember one time recently, one of the moments when the mask order came off, I think at about 1pm, and I remember going into shops at 3pm and very few people had masks on. So it gets out there and people seem to follow it really well. But yeah, I agree. I've got so many friends now who do have positive rapid tests. It just seems it’s a matter of time and as long as we can keep the vulnerable ready to get assisted, I think we have to live with it.

SPENCER HOWSON:     Yeah, I've gone from two weeks ago not knowing anyone with COVID, a week ago knowing six people, today I know two people in hospital with COVID. One vaccinated, one unvaccinated. So it is coming for us. Maria, should we be checking in still?

MARIA BOULTON:       I still am, actually, not that I'm going out a lot.

SPENCER HOWSON:     That’s other thing, we have been told to not go out. Although on Wednesday, the Health Minister said no, that's not what we said, but we’d rather you not go out. I think they want everyone to stay home but they don't want to be accused of creating a lockdown.

MARIA BOULTON:       Yeah, that's right. And as GPs, we're really busy. We're still running vaccine clinics and we just started vaccinating the five to 11s, so we can't afford to get sick. So we're being extra careful so that we can go to work and get the work done.

SPENCER HOWSON:     Should we be checking in still though?

MARIA BOULTON:       I think rules are rules. I don't know. All I've seen in Facebook is people who have tested positive and what they do is that they take a photo of where they've been on that check-in app and then they put it on Facebook and tell people where they’ve been.

SPENCER HOWSON:     I know, that’s terrific but that it's not was meant to be.

[Ad break]

SPENCER HOWSON:      Novak Djokovic, the latest in the court case is that there's going be the full hearing tomorrow, three judges. And the Federal Government are now using this argument, this is what they're going to use in court tomorrow, that if Djokovic is allowed to stay, he will fuel anti vaxxers. This is their new tack. And I think that's the wrong tack. I think that if you want to look at the pub test or the sniff test, it's all about Djokovic lying about what he had done and lying on his paperwork. Michael Crutcher, how do you see this?

MICHAEL CRUTCHER:             That's what they have to frame, Spencer, I agree completely. They have to make it around that it’s about how you come into this country. So I couldn't agree more on that. But every journalist around the country I am sure is cheering for Djokovic to stay and play because that's the story. If he stays and he plays, people will watch the matches, they’ll want to know who boos him -

SPENCER HOWSON:     [Interrupts] I don't know, will they? I think people won't watch.

MICHAEL CRUTCHER:             Journalists, I mean, in the story? I think people want him to go. And I think that he has to go. But in terms of journalism, the way the story keeps rolling on, as you know, so. But I must say the one thing I've looked at this week, the people who say well, you can't put yourself into Djokovic’s mindset, because this is a guy who stands across the courts from the likes of Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal and stares them down on match point. This is his mindset. I think it's a load of rubbish. I mean, I covered high level sports for 10 years as a sports writer, and just because you're a good athlete doesn't mean you behave like this. So I'm fascinated to see what happens. I think the Federal Government has to narrow its arguments because that's where its strength will be.

SPENCER HOWSON:     Maria Boulton, should he stay or should he go?

MARIA BOULTON:       I think if he broke the rules, I think he should go. And you know, I feel sorry for him because he's obviously chasing that extra Grand Slam. But all the more reason to actually have done your homework before you travel to another country. We all do that before we travel. And he should have done that.

SPENCER HOWSON:     Yeah, I'm getting a couple of texts from people saying ‘but from today, you can come into Queensland unvaccinated without a PCR test, and yet we're still concerned that Djokovic is unvaccinated coming into the country’. Fair point. And in a in a week's time, things are going to loosen up with international travel into Queensland as well. But the fact is at the time, he did the wrong thing. And also, the spirit of this is he's an anti vaxxer, who wants to make a point of being able to travel wherever he wants, because he's rich and famous and hasn't been vaccinated. So he should be sent home, I think.

Anyway, the Australian Republican movement, new ad campaign this week, perhaps timed for the Queen’s 70th on the throne in a couple of weeks’ time. And the message to her – ‘we can take it from here’. What do you think, Maria Boulton? Is there an appetite for a republic at this point?

MARIA BOULTON:       Well, I’ve been so busy with the pandemic at the moment –

SPENCER HOWSON:      Well, that's what I think everyone's gonna say, yeah.

MARIA BOULTON:       You know, I'm very biased, because I come from a different country where the government was, yeah, wasn't great. And I love Australia. And I guess if we were to change our system of government, I would want to make sure that we change it to something better, not something that can be worse. And it is a risky step. But I think at the moment, to be honest, all our energies are focused on COVID, and what's going to happen in the next couple of weeks in Queensland.

SPENCER HOWSON:     What do you think, Michael Crutcher?

MICHAEL CRUTCHER:             Yeah, I agree, this one came out of nowhere. I mean, there's so much focus at the moment around COVID and Novak Djokovic, which has been dominating headlines. And it's January. It's not the time, I think, where you go and put stories out there to generate conversation. So I think the timing’s bizarre and the thing I always come down to is the history of referendums in Australia, and getting people to vote to change, it's not a successful history. People know what they're going to lose, it's harder for them to understand what they're going to gain. That's a natural human behaviour. So right now, the Queen's popular. We're not talking about it around our kitchens or at bars. I don't know, I think it’s bizarre timing. There's another time for this. And it’s not now.

SPENCER HOWSON:     Yeah, the timing is always going to be difficult with this though. Because when the Queen dies, if this is brought up, then it'll be described as insensitive. So I think that they're a little bit clever in doing it as we prepare for 70 years of celebrating the Queen being on the throne, there’s a bit of embarrassment around Prince Andrew, we've had Meghan and Harry leaving the firm, Australia Day or January 26, whatever you want to call it, in a couple of weeks’ time. So I don't think the timing is so silly. But overall, and I said this last year when it came up, it's way down the list of priorities for people and Maria's reaction says it all -ah, come on, we’ve got so much else going on in the world. And I think that's what most people would think.

MARIA BOULTON:       Yeah, absolutely. Absolutely. There's so much more happening. And all of my energy at the moment is going to the COVID pandemic and making sure that that we get those pathways to help GPs through this. There's 8,000 GPs in Queensland, I think those 8,000 GPs are going to be thinking about something else at the moment.

SPENCER HOWSON:     Maria Boulton, when the pandemic is behind us, I promise we will still include you on The Sizzle. We will be able to talk about things that are not COVID. And Michael Crutcher, from a journalism point of view I agree with your regards to Djokovic - the best scenario would be two sets all and he gets marched off the court in Melbourne, but I hope he gets booted before we even get to that. Michael Crutcher, Maria Boulton, thank you both for being on The Sizzle.


Published: 15 Jan 2022