Practices eager to get Rats

Experts are calling for more reliance on rapid antigen tests in the event of an Omicron outbreak....
Clinics were being encouraged to use the more reliable PCR testing for Covid-19 for now, and Rats would be distributed to GPs, pharmacies, Maori health providers and others who needed them. Photo: Getty Images
Southern GPs are anxiously awaiting the arrival of rapid antigen Covid-19 tests at their clinics and medical centres, supplies which the WellSouth primary health organisation says are being kept in reserve until when they are needed.

WellSouth director of nursing Wendy Findlay yesterday said there were 30,000 Rats stored in 23 different sites throughout Otago and Southland and more on order.

Clinics were being encouraged to use the more reliable PCR testing for Covid-19 for now, and Rats would be distributed to GPs, pharmacies, Maori health providers and others who needed them when the Omicron variant of the pandemic disease reached the region, she said.

"There is no shortage ... they are coming."

Greg White
Greg White
However, Cromwell GP Greg White was frustrated yesterday, having ordered Rats from the Ministry of Health more than a fortnight ago only for them still not to have arrived.

Dr White said that if a Covid-19-positive patient unwittingly visited a rural practice such as his, affected staff who were close contacts would need to isolate for 14 days unless a Rat showed that they did not have the disease and could still safely work.

"We did try ordering some privately last week but we haven’t seen any sign of them yet either," he said.

"We need them ready to go now, not being delivered in a week’s time ... some of the newer tests are something like 98% accurate and they would be extremely useful."

Bigger medical centres were placing staff in two bubbles so one team could work if the other had members who tested positive, Dr White said.

Many southern medical centres were small rural practices like his and did not have that luxury, so several communities could have their overall healthcare reduced if they were forced to close due a Covid case, Dr White said.

"All we have cared about from day one is keeping open. We don’t want to get sick ourselves obviously but it is more the risk to the practice and patients not having access to medical care, that would be a disaster."

A medical centre in Motueka became a location of interest last week after a Covid-positive patient visited, but it had been supplied with Rats and remained open, Dr White said.

The Ministry of Health sent advice to all general practices some weeks ago that they should order a pack of five tests per front-line staff member, plus an extra 10% as a contingency, as well as having enough of the rapid antigen tests in stock for more vulnerable populations such as elderly, those with high needs, Maori, Pasifika and the highly deprived, who could be tested by centre staff.

"The testing strategy for Omicron is still being confirmed, however it is likely to include the use of unsupervised Rats by the public," the ministry said.

"As such, we expect the quantity of supervised tests that you may perform to be comparatively small and focused largely on those that will need additional support with undertaking a Rat."

WellSouth chief executive Andrew Swanson-Dobbs said the PHO was not involved in the Rat-ordering process, and that the ministry was providing supplies direct to GPs.

"We support general practices being prepared for the arrival of Omicron, as it is vital that the primary healthcare workforce can be quickly tested, and in order for these tests to be available for testing patients and whanau as and when it is required."

There was plenty of testing capacity across Otago and Southland, including no-appointment testing centres in Dunedin, Invercargill and Queenstown, Mr Swanson-Dobbs said.