An open letter to Victorian Health Minister Jenny Mikakos

An open letter to Victorian Health Minister Jenny Mikakos

Jenny Mikakos
On Saturday, Victorian Health Minister, Jenny Mikakos, held a press conference to announce that a GP had tested positive for coronavirus COVID-19, after returning from a trip to the US.

Although the GP had improving symptoms of a mild cold when he returned to work last Monday, and met none of the governments published guidelines for either self-isolation or testing, he had voluntarily taken a test on Thursday which has returned the positive result.

Although the doctor had acted within the guidelines, she stated that she was “flabbergasted that a doctor with flu-like symptoms has presented to work”, and suggested that this might warrant a notification to AHPRA, the health regulator.

Although the Minister did not name the GP, she provided the gender, age bracket and practice location, thus allowing immediate identification of the individual doctor, who was subjected to extensive abuse and pillorying for being irresponsible.

The entire medical profession has come out in support, with doctors on social media as far as Europe, South East Asia, the UK and the US raising concerns that a health care professional has been thrown under the bus despite acting within all published guidelines and also being diligent in getting the test.

This is one brilliant response written, by Dr Leslie Gan Rehabilitation Medicine Physician. 

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To all our Ministers,

It is with great dismay that I read the news about your colleague, Victorian Health Minister Jenny Mikakos, stating that she is “absolutely flabbergasted that the doctor who has experienced flu-like symptoms has presented to work”.

This flippant remark, as well as another comment she made about involving AHPRA for health care workers daring to show up to work when unwell, shows disrespect and a complete lack of understanding of the pressures that our primary health care providers and hospital staff face every day.

If you were to speak with any doctor in either primary health care or in a hospital service, you would hear first-hand how difficult it is to obtain relief cover when a staff member must take sick leave. Too often many of us work with no relief cover, and through our good will, shoulder the extra work burden when a colleague is unwell enough to be away, or indeed when any form of leave has to be taken.

You must be aware that our General Practitioner colleagues run as small private businesses and cannot afford to take sick leave lightly. There is also the guilt of not wanting to let our patients down by cancelling appointments, especially when appointments with trusted GPs can be very difficult to come by.

Many, if not all doctors, will recall easily the occasions when they have been dealt with sharply by either clinical supervisors or administrative staff when needing to take leave for either sickness or carer responsibilities. It is an often bandied-about joke amongst doctors, that ‘no one is allowed to take sick leave unless they are dying or dead’. This joke did not come about because we are callous; we are merely trying to meet the unrelenting demands of health care with some morbid humour in order to cope.

Given that all health care professionals work in clinical settings where we are more commonly exposed to pathogens than the average person in the community, it should come as no surprise that we would be at greater risk than others of getting sick. However, the health care system is so under-resourced that there is minimal slack in the system for health care workers to take sick leave when they actually need it. It must be noted that the doctor in question, in fact, could have chosen not to have himself tested as he did not fulfil eligibility criteria for testing. At this time, when our government requires the services and co-operation of all health care professionals in a bid to contain the COVID19 virus, accusing any health care worker of willfully spreading disease when we are working to the best of our abilities is counter-productive and demoralizing, to say the least.

Many of us working in health care are people of great compassion and conscientiousness, and as we have little power to change the system in which we work, we simply soldier on when faced with minor illnesses that do not completely incapacitate us; we do this for our sick patients, and also for our already over-burdened colleagues.

I hope Ms Mikakos realizes what an unfair statement she has made, and how cruel she has been to a person who set out to work as a doctor in service to his community as best as he could. In fact, I think she should issue a formal apology for her ill-planned remarks.

Ministers, I write to all of you hoping that you will not repeat the same error as she has. Many clinical health care staff go far and beyond their official job duties to provide care to our community as best as we can, within whatever finite resources we have. We do not need to be made scapegoats at this time when it is important for all of us as a community to work together to ensure everyone stays safe and well.

Sincerely yours,

Dr Leslie Gan

Rehabilitation Medicine Physician

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