CORONAVIRUS, HEALTH INITIATIVES

The Hon. J.S.L. DAWKINS (15:11): My question is directed to the Minister for Health and Wellbeing. Will the minister update the council on health initiatives during the COVID-19 pandemic?

The Hon. S.G. WADE (Minister for Health and Wellbeing) (15:12): I thank the honourable member for his question. Around the world we have seen the COVID-19 pandemic strain and overwhelm health systems, with a corresponding and tragic toll in human life. My understanding is that the most recent death toll worldwide is 200,000 deaths.

One of the indicators of whether or not a pandemic is coming under control is how many days it takes for the cases in a particular defined area to double. I understand that currently the doubling rate for the world as a whole is 19 days; in comparison, fortunately Australia is increasingly extending the doubling rate and it is now at 32 days. One can get lost in the statistics of this, but the extending of the doubling rate has meant that, to use the words of the Premier, we have been able to 'flatten the curve, push out the peak' and, at this stage at least, ease the pressure on the hospital system.

Of course, any case is tragic, any case is a risk of mortality, and the risk of mortality significantly increases if you have exponential growth. If you have a hard, short, sharp burst on the hospital system it significantly risks overwhelming it, and it has been tragic in recent weeks to see countries we know—countries we know well—having real trouble coping with the demands on their hospital systems.

Here, through the leadership of the Chief Public Health Officer, Professor Nicola Spurrier, her deputy chief public health officers and their teams, we have seen significant success in public health measures. As the Treasurer highlighted, this is a South Australian partnership within the rest of the federation, and I believe that when the history of the COVID-19 pandemic is written, Australia will have some lessons to share.

I want to stress that the public health team has been superbly backed up by the whole SA Health network of services. There has been incredible innovation, a willingness to work together across domains and, to be frank, that is not just within SA Health but also includes the network of GPs, who are basically small business operators right across the state. The partnership with the commonwealth and its agencies, such as its public health network, has been exemplary.

One program which I would particularly like to highlight is the support that has been provided to COVID patients through the home hospital pilot. The home hospital was a pilot begun as part of the Marshall Liberal government's commitment to rebalance the health system following the Transforming Health experiment. The pilot supports care for South Australians in the comfort and security of their own home, freeing up capacity in our hospitals for people who need higher acuity care. This pilot became the foundation for a very effective home hospital program during the COVID-19 pandemic.

In fact, 40 per cent of COVID-19 patients have received care through our Hospital at Home program. That is a very significant contribution, particularly in times like these when we are working hard to make sure that the hospital system is available when the need is there. To be able to provide more than 160 patients with the care they needed in a home hospital environment meant that not only were those individual patients receiving care in a more familiar environment without the risk of hospital-based infections or falls, it also meant that the hospitals were able to keep their beds free.

One of the very pleasing features of the South Australian response to the COVID-19 pandemic is that we have had significant inpatient capacity on hand. That is partly through home hospital, it is partly through things like the work of the peri-urban hospitals to provide care for metropolitan-based patients in nearby facilities, and it is partly in relation to the great work that has been done in terms of placing long stay patients, both aged-care patients and also patients who are waiting for the next step in the national disability program. However, the home hospital program, as I said, in providing care to about 40 per cent of our COVID-19 patients has played a crucial role. Home hospitals were able to support the health system by easing the pressure on our emergency departments and, in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic, provided the nimbleness that the system needed.

Today, SA Health has launched a tender for the delivery of services as part of 'my home hospital'. Of course, like any reform in the Marshall Liberal government, it is well thought through and it is incremental. The aim is to lift care in the community to about 5 per cent of activity. The majority of patients will continue to receive hospital level care in a hospital environment, but for many the opportunity to have their care provided in the community is a choice that they welcome.

The services out of the tender will begin later this year and I am sure will become an integral part of the South Australian health system's new normal after the global pandemic. This is another example of the way that the reforming work put in by this government following the 2018 election provided a solid foundation for the state's response to the COVID-19 pandemic and will be part of the improved delivery of health services on the other side of the pandemic.