From 1 July 2022 a new COVID-19 branch will formally start operating within the Victorian Department of Health’s public health division. This restructure is part of the department’s planned transition of its pandemic response from the crisis phase to ongoing public health stewardship.
With the population now highly vaccinated, and Victoria’s health system under significant pressure, the public health response to COVID-19 must shift to focusing on communities which are:
- clinically more vulnerable to COVID-19; or
- less able to access vaccination services through mainstream population wide channels.
The department will maintain limited testing, vaccination, and engagement capabilities.
Local Public Health Units (LPHUs) will play a central role in this transition, continuing to deliver COVID-19 response services, in addition to broader public health functions. This is part of the Victorian Government’s long-term reform program to build a networked, sustainable public health system.
LPHUs will be able to respond to future outbreaks by rapidly increasing scale when required and working with local resources including primary health networks and primary care providers. North Western Melbourne Primary Health Network (NWMPHN) is engaging with its LPHUs to enable a coordinated approach with primary care providers.
Testing and vaccination
The department’s testing strategy will rely on rapid antigen tests as the primary testing tool, with PCR testing focused on priority cohorts. This will allow for the closure of some state-run testing sites, with the ability to scale up if required.
The state-led vaccine delivery will focus on at-risk communities and populations which have difficulty accessing other channels, allowing the closure of most vaccination sites. Some mobile and in-reach vaccination services will be maintained.
Implications for primary care
NWMPHN recognises that while the department’s scaling back of its COVID-19 response is necessary, primary care providers in the region do not have this option.
All general practices which have not yet done so are encouraged to complete our short survey on care delivery in the new COVID-normal. Your responses will help us understand the support practices need and inform our approach to advocacy, support and resourcing for primary care.
Practices are encouraged to proactively identify at-risk patients and put plans in place to support their access to timely care, including antiviral and other early therapies if they contract COVID-19, influenza or other respiratory viruses. Visit HealthPathways Melbourne for up-to-date clinical advice and referral pathways.
If your practice is not equipped to provide face-to-face care for respiratory patients, they can be referred to GP respiratory clinics for testing, assessment and management.
As we learn more about what the changing state government COVID-19 response will mean for primary care, we will share this with you.