Rapid Antigen Tests (RATs) key to preventing health system overload from COVID-19 wave

5 January 2022

The Royal Australasian College of Physicians (RACP) says the explosion of Omicron cases is putting enormous strain on the health system and free Rapid Antigen Tests (RATs) is key to preventing health system overload. RATs are now an important component of our public health response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

RACP wants the federal government to make RATs free for wide distribution with priority for health and aged care workers and other priority groups including Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, people with disability, people with lower incomes and rural and remote communities.

Dr Jacqueline Small, President-elect of the RACP, says RATs are an important public health tool to prevent the worst outcomes of an overloaded health system.

“Making the tests free is the only way to guarantee those that need them get them,” Dr Small said.

“This is especially important for priority groups including people with disability who are required to present a negative test to access care and treatment, and staff and families visiting residential aged care facilities.

“We are also concerned by reports that a large proportion of COVID-19 cases are not being picked up in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. Tests need to be made widely available through Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Services where possible. This will help to pick up positive cases and ensure that appropriate care is provided at the earliest opportunity.

“Tests have been made freely available in the UK and other countries and we encourage the Australian Government to do the same.

“We would also strongly encourage the federal government to revise the testing framework for COVID-19. This framework advises that when the PCR testing system is overwhelmed that rapid antigen testing should be considered.

“In the current context, there is an insufficient supply of rapid antigen tests to meet demand. The testing framework for both RAT and PCR tests needs to be updated, clarified and made as consistent as possible across jurisdictions. The testing framework needs to ensure that all people suspected or at risk of COVID-19 are able to access a RAT or PCR test. We encourage National Cabinet to resolve this issue as soon as possible.

“Clear messages need to be communicated to the community about what to do if they or a family member has symptoms, including when to contact a GP and when to contact 000 or go to hospital. Rapidly changing advice has left the community confused and this needs to be addressed quickly.

“The RACP continues to strongly recommend that all eligible people are vaccinated for COVID-19, including accessing boosters where they are available,” Dr Small said. 

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