Top doctor reveals thoughts on PCR testing changes

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Traditional PCR testing has been axed to ease the burden on taxpayers, a top doctor has revealed.

As the federal government announced those looking to get a PCR test will now require a referral from their GP, one of the country’s leading medics has revealed why the free on-the-spot Covid pandemic testing style was no longer being offered.

On Tuesday, Royal Australian College of General Practitioners president Nicole Higgins told NCA NewsWire that GPs had sought clarification from the health department after it was announced that PCR tests now required a referral from a medical or nurse practitioner.

She said for most people, PCR tests weren’t necessary.

“For most, a PCR isn’t needed,” she said.

“It comes as a significant cost to taxpayers. The government has said that states will still be funded to provide PCR for vulnerable (people).”

She said despite the change, there was still a role for the testing Aussies have come to know over the past three years, especially for those testing negative on a rapid antigen test (RAT) but still experiencing symptoms or the vulnerable.

Anyone with respiratory symptoms is still encouraged to seek a PCR test through their GPs despite a nationwide plan that now requires referrals for the once readily available testing.

“Those high at risk with negative RAT results should still have a PCR, and they will be available through state-run systems, GPs and respiratory clinics,” Dr Higgins said.

Camera IconRACGP president Nicole Higgins said people had a choice when it came to testing. Supplied Credit: News Corp Australia

“Anyone with respiratory symptoms should stay home.

“Whether it’s Covid or other viruses, people should stay home. If you have to go out, wear a mask.”

Australian medical professionals slammed the federal government’s plan earlier on Monday when it was announced that PCR tests would not be made available without a referral.

Health Minister Mark Butler released the national Covid health management plan on Monday, with changes to the way the country’s health services deal with the virus as cases surge.

In 2023, Australia will transition to managing Covid-19 in a “similar way” to other respiratory viruses, moving away from bespoke arrangements. PCR tests would only be available with a medical referral, Mr Butler said.

The changes to testing are intended to turn a PCR test – which is more sensitive than a RAT – from a surveillance tool to a means of getting those in need faster access to antiviral medication.

Camera IconPatients now need referrals to access PCR testing. NCA NewsWire / Dean Martin Credit: News Corp Australia

“People do have a choice,” Dr Higgins said.

“They can see GPs, they can go through respiratory clinics.

“Each state will have options available for vulnerable people.”

Antiviral medication is still available for eligible people, but a positive RAT or PCR result is required to receive them.

“The antivirals are part of doctors’ bags, so GPs have emergency supplies as well,” Dr Higgins said.

“We encourage those in the high-risk categories who are eligible for antivirals to contact their GP.”

She said GPs were on the lookout for any potential negative consequences of the change, particularly in the form of wider spread and exposure, as people have more hoops to jump through to access PCR testing.

“What that looks like, at this stage, we are unsure. We’ll need to seek clarification.

“The landscape is going to change over the next 2-3 years as Covid becomes part of our normal daily lives,” she said.

“We have management plans for that, going into the future, about how to incorporate Covid, how we manage patients into everybody’s workflow.”

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