GENERAL practitioners fear a lack of resources and access to testing in Ballarat is leaving the region wide open for a dangerous COVID-19 outbreak.
Health First Medical Group GP Matthew Pilkington's biggest concern is a wait of two-to-three business days for self-referring patients to be screened in Lucas, plus the wait for a test result, could turn patients off from doing the right thing.
While Victorian health department information states people can access free testing via doctors prepared to bulk-bill, Dr Pilkington said the reality was only a couple of Ballarat clinics were equipped to do so. He said most clinics did not have appropriate personal protective equipment while for others, the health status of the consulting doctor was a key factor.
This comes as Bendigo and Geelong each recorded new COVID-19 cases on Thursday in a sign the virus has spread beyond Melbourne as the state's capital entered the first day in a six-week lockdown.
Dr Pilkington, speaking on behalf of a band of doctors across the community, made clear he was not criticising the UFS-led public screening clinic - that they were doing a exemplary job - but the government needed to put more resources into regional testing.
"All it can take is an itinerant worker to land in Ballarat feeling sick...Imagine a vulnerable person looking at eight to nine days off work if they're trying to book in now and have to wait until early next week for a test. You can see it's part of why some people might decide not to get tested," Dr Pilkington said.
"At the moment there's a big outbreak in Melbourne. Everyone's making sacrificing their liberties; they're making economic sacrifices and social sacrifices. We need to honour that sacrifice by not letting it spill out to the rest of regional Victoria."
Dr Pilkington said there had to be a way for people to get tested sooner.
He said some patients were presenting to hospital emergency departments out of desperation.
Of those he consults from this clinic, Dr Pilkington said healthy patients were often worried they were doing the right thing and patients with complex health conditions were upset at the risk the virus could have on their life.
His concerns were echoed by Ballarat GP Tony Bongiorno, who led calls early in the pandemic for an open-air drive-through clinic in Ballarat.
Dr Bongiorno had said the concept would allow for people to remain isolated, be tested faster and ultimately promote herd immunity to slow the virus' spread.
He was dismayed the wait for testing in Ballarat was about two days and it was a big ask for people to enter hard isolation without feeling they had strong reason to do so, like for a sniffle.
It's not only you but your whole family, too.Dr Tony Bongiorno
"If it takes a few days to find out if you test negative or positive, you've potentially left the window open to creating more positive cases," he said
"The sooner you find out about it the better."
Ballarat moved to a sole testing site at Lucas Community Hub after a statewide testing blitz in May.
The clinic has been averaging between 200 and 250 people each day since Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews first moved to tighten restrictions in Melbourne.
UFS primary care operations manager Danielle Trezise said UFS, in partnership with Ballarat Health Services, had been seeking further resources, particularly in staffing, to reduce the wait for a test.
Ms Trezise said anyone referred by a GP would fit in on the day, or when best suited the patient, and the clinic kept appointments for the most urgent cases. There was room to add in extra bookings if patient flow was moving well.
But Ms Trezise said it was particularly tough for asymptomatic people who needed tests, like people who need to travel interstate for work or to fly overseas.
She said UFS was aware of these issues and working with the health department to fix this.
A BHS spokesperson confirmed the health service was reviewing testing on a daily basis and following health department direction for if and when testing needed to be changed.
BHS will continue to support UFS.
The health service and Ms Trezise said there was a lot of confusion from the public in test location and sourcing results when there had been a test site running concurrently in Sebastopol early in the pandemic.
The Lucas site services the wider region, including Ballan which has no public test site.
It was unclear whether Djerrawarrh Health Service would re-open public testing in Bacchus Marsh. Djerrawarrh offers drive-through screening in Melton.
Travel is a barrier for vulnerable residents in Ballarat too, with one Brown Hill senior citizen saying many elderly were not confident in driving across town to Lucas and had to rely on a taxi or family to take them.
Anyone with any cold and flu-like symptoms is urged to book a test, call 43 11 1571.
For more information on COVID-19, visit: https://www.dhhs.vic.gov.au/coronavirus
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