Potentially infectious Victorians cleared to leave isolation

GPs are urging the Victorian Health Department to consult with them before coronavirus patients are released into the community, claiming potentially infectious people are being cleared to leave isolation while others without symptoms languish at home.

Dr Hanna El-Khoury, a Newport GP who has treated dozens of COVID-19 patients, said the department recently sent a clearance certificate to a young man with coronavirus just five days after the onset of his symptoms.

Newport GP Dr Hanna El-Khoury said the Victorian Department of Health and Human Services recently sent a clearance certificate to a young man with coronavirus just five days after the onset of his symptoms. Credit:Scott McNaughton

The man, who was a patient at Dr El-Khoury’s clinic, lied to the department about when he developed symptoms so he could receive the all-clear days earlier than permitted under the rules.

Under the department’s criteria, most COVID-19 cases are considered recovered if the patient has not had symptoms for the previous 72 hours, and at least 10 days have elapsed since the onset of acute illness. Most patients are not required to produce a negative test result.

Dr El-Khoury said if the department had contacted his clinic, it would have discovered the patient first complained of symptoms five days earlier.

“When I phoned the patient, he said: ‘You don't need to contact me, DHHS sent me a letter of release after five days'," Dr El-Khoury said.

"Then he got angry with me and said, ‘I don't want you to contact me again’. Then he hung up.”

He said patients should have to record a negative test before leaving isolation.

"We should not have another repeat of the hotel quarantine because we did not force people to have a test," he said.

Melbourne GP Catherine Orr, who has treated close to 100 COVID-19 patients, said that about a month ago three of her patients received clearance from the department two days before they should have.

“Some people were being cleared, despite having persistent symptoms, and no further follow-up,” she said. “I don’t know why we aren’t tapping into the GP resources that we have on the ground running already?”

Dr Mukesh Haikerwal says GPs should be consulted before patients are released from isolation.Credit:Eddie Jim

Australian Medical Association council chair Mukesh Haikerwal said GPs were in close contact with coronavirus patients, had a deep understanding of their circumstances and should be allowed to sign off on their clearance certificates.

At the very least, Dr Haikerwal said GPs should be consulted before coronavirus patients were released from isolation.

“Nobody from the department has talked to us about a COVID-19 patient," the Altona North GP said.

"We should be able to see the patient and say, 'you meet the criteria, you are free to come out of quarantine'."

A department spokesman said every coronavirus case was individually assessed by a health professional using standardised criteria before they were cleared to leave isolation.

"Case, contact and outbreak specialists are specifically appointed to ensure the appropriate clearance of patients," he said.

"The earliest that a case is considered for clearance is 10 days after the day they first experienced symptoms. However, if an individual developed symptoms a number of days prior to getting tested, there may be less than 10 days between the time of that person’s test and the time they are cleared."

Some cases must record a negative COVID-19 test before they are issued with a clearance certificate. These include patients who are significantly immuno-compromised and those who have ongoing, unresolved symptoms.

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