Senior members of the local medical profession were to meet for urgent talks on Monday night to discuss the risk posed by doctors travelling back and forth to the Border from Melbourne's COVID-19 hotspots.
The move comes after Albury Wodonga Health (AWH) reiterated "our hospitals are safe" following Border Medical Association chairman Scott Giltrap's grim warning visiting medicos were putting the community in harm's way.
However the leading fertility specialist, who has been awarded an OAM for his services to regional medicine, has slammed these assurances as "rubbish".
"AWH has stated it is following best practice guidelines consistent with major metropolitan hospitals (yet) there are increasing numbers of health workers in Melbourne infected, which would indicate those measures aren't working," Mr Giltrap said as Victoria recorded a record 532 new virus cases and 6 deaths on Monday, July 27.
"Wearing masks and face shields helps decrease transmission but that is all it does."
In a further statement on Monday, AWH medical services director Glenn Davies said "there is no fool-proof infection control measure that will stop COVID-19", and added nobody could guarantee there would not be further outbreaks in the region.
He said doctors "form only a small proportion of that risk".
"This is why we have adopted a comprehensive range of measures addressing risk from patients returning from Melbourne as well as doctors, nurses, allied health, other staff and visitors."
Mr Davies said AWH continued to "watch very closely what is happening in Melbourne" and was guided by best practice infection control advice, including directives from the chief health officers.
However AWH has also acknowledged there was "no legal directive that prevents visiting doctors from returning to their principal place of residence on days off".
And Mr Davies again stressed that excluding this "critical workforce" would do more harm than good.
"The COVID pandemic hasn't stopped traffic accidents, cancer, strokes or heart attacks," he said.
"The hospital still needs to function ... put simply it would cripple our health system and cost lives."
Mr Giltrap has labelled this threatened closure of key services as "scaremongering" and "completely wrong".
He pointed out that in April, when the risk was considerably less, all elective surgery was shut down for five weeks.
Among his suggestions for a "modified system" is staggering the influx of 23 registrars due next week and running the A&E department without Melbourne locums.
"Most of these locums are here for only a few shifts at a time so preventive measures are virtually impossible in a practical sense so we need to look at other options," he said.
Mr Giltrap said "it doesn't make sense" doctors were not prevented from returning to Melbourne on days off.
"Yet if I go from Jindera to Murray Goulburn at Tangambalanga to pick up fertiliser for the farm, I have to quarantine for two weeks and can not attend work," he said.
"Our community is essentially COVID free at present but is seriously compromised by the border restrictions which have been put in place to protect NSW from infection being transmitted from Melbourne.
"Our health service is negating the whole border restrictions effort to keep us safe by not following the same preventative measures as the rest of the community is expected to follow because it will provide short-term difficulties in running the service."
Mr Giltrap also took aim at AWH's position - reiterated again on Monday - that "early detection and isolation will continue to be our first line of defence".
"It should be prevention," Mr Giltrap stated firmly.
"Local people would prefer some compromise in the health service provided rather than the introduction of this virus into our community and the deaths that will be associated with this."
"The Border Medical Association is calling an urgent meeting to discuss this and decide what action we can take."
So how are visiting medicos bunkering down in the Border bubble?
AWH says it has learnt valuable lessons from outbreaks elsewhere, which is why it has been pro-active in implementing "a comprehensive suite of measures to help mitigate the risk of COVID transmission internally and externally".
- All staff, even with the mildest of symptoms must stay home and undergo COVID testing;
- Universal staff travel policy;
- Universal masks and/or face shields at all AWH campuses and facilities;
- Minimising staff interaction from different areas within the health service;
- Focus on preventing transmission during breaks and handovers with dedicated meal areas;
AWH advises that visiting medical staff are COVID tested the week before they arrive and any person with symptoms, or positive cases is excluded from work.
If any doctors elect to travel to Melbourne, mostly to see their family, including young children, they are subject to the strict stage three lockdown conditions while in Melbourne and are put through a rigorous screening process upon their return, which may include a further self-isolation period.
AWH allocates accommodation that considers appropriate physical distancing for its rotating medical workforce when on placement with the health service.
Locum doctors accommodated in Albury are required to self-isolate when not at work and AWH allocates accommodation according to their requirements including self-contained options and support with food delivery services.