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‘Equity matters’: health organisations call for expanded access to RATs as PM doubles down

Health organisations state RATs are a health product, not a typical consumer good, and the overwhelming demand for them has inflated their price beyond what many people can afford. Photo: Creative Commons/ Marco Verch.

By EVA BAXTER

Health organisations across Australia are calling on the federal government to urgently expand access to rapid antigen tests.

The Public Health Association of Australia (PHAA) and the Australian Medical Association (AMA) said free rapid antigen tests are a matter of equity.

“With the difficulty of getting a PCR test, many people just want to be confident they don’t have the virus before they interact with others,” said PHAA CEO Professor Terry Slevin.

“RATs do, and must continue to play, an essential role in a pandemic that is looking increasingly out of control.

“We cannot diminish the incredible work of our public health and healthcare workers across the continent by letting market forces decide who can afford to get and use RATs during this health emergency.

“Equity matters, as it does for every aspect of public health. The people most at risk from the pandemic are often least able to afford RATs, if they can find any,” he said.

Health Services Union (HSU) National President Gerard Hayes said it is disgraceful private companies are exploiting the public’s need for essential health supplies.

“Big retailers profiteering is no different to individuals looting during a crisis. The Prime Minister needs to step in and ensure RATs are free and accessible to everyone who needs them,” Hayes said.

“RATs can provide a quick answer to those who think they may have contracted the virus. However, we cannot expect potentially COVID-positive patients to travel to multiple different shops to find RATs, and then pay through the nose for them.

“Many people cannot afford to make ends meet week to week, let alone budget for $150 or more in RATs for their family,” he said.

RAT race

PM Scott Morrison said after yesterday’s national cabinet meeting, “universal free access to tests was not agreed by any of the states and territories today, or the Commonwealth. I make that very clear.

“Universal free access to tests was not considered the right policy response by all of the states and territories in attendance today, and the Commonweath.

“What was agreed, though, was providing, as I flagged two weeks ago, a model to provide concessional access for tests over a three-month period, and they will be made available through the pharmacy network,” he said.

Australians who hold a Commonwealth seniors health card, a healthcare card, a low income card, a pension concession card, DVA gold card or a DVA white card will be provided with a maximum of ten tests over three months.

Morrison also stated that only those who are symptomatic or a close contact need to get any test, including RAT, and changed testing requirements which will see Australians who test positive with a RAT no longer need to confirm the result with a PCR test to “take pressure off PCR testing lines.”

Royal Australian College of General Practitioners (RACGP) President Dr Karen Price said if supply constraints occurred, priority populations must be prioritised.

“If at times we don’t have enough rapid antigen tests to make them freely available for all people in Australia, we must target the priority populations to ensure that those most at risk do still have access to free supply,” she said.

“Priority populations include those at high risk of disease due to underlying health conditions and obesity, people aged 65 and over, people in communities where vaccination rates are lower such as Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities, and those with complex care needs such as people living with a disability or in residential aged care.

“It also includes those living in high density households, people working in high-risk professions such as healthcare workers and hospitality workers, people in populations that have the highest prevalence of COVID-19 and a high likelihood of transmission such as those aged between 20 to 30 years and those who cannot be vaccinated such as children aged five and under.

“They must be front of mind because if they can’t access a rapid antigen test when they need one the consequences could well prove dire,” she said.

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