COVID-19: One billion spent on health supplies

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Health minister Greg Hunt is expected to extend the emergency 'continued dispensing' arrangements, one country blocked Australia's attempt to export purchased health equipment, investors have backed health companies, while a new alliance of Victorian-based organisations has been established to support cancer treatment.

Emergency 'Continued Dispensing' arrangements

Health minister Greg Hunt is expected to extend the emergency supply arrangements meaning patients can access one month's supply of their medicine without a prescription and at the usual co-payment level.

Under state and territory laws, pharmacists can supply a limited amount of a medicine to a patient without a prescription where there is an urgent need and their doctor cannot be contacted.

Minister Hunt previously announced the extended 'Continued Dispensing' arrangements would operate until today (31 March 2020). The minister is expected to extend the arrangements until 30 June 2020.

CMO Professor Brendan Murphy: One billion on new health supplies 

Australia has spent one billion dollars on a range of health supplies, including personal protection equipment, according to the Commonwealth Chief Medical Officer Professor Brendan Murphy.

However, there have been some challenges, with Professor Murhpy telling ABC Four Corners one country blocked the export of the equipment "even though we've paid for them."

"The Government is throwing everything at this. We've got a task force of rooms full of people who are scouring the world," he said.

Investors back health sectors

The Australian share market has been volatile in recent weeks but investors are getting behind healthcare stocks.

In trading yesterday, the healthcare sector was a standout, led by Cellmid that announced it was launching a test for COVID-19.

The company's share price soared over 200 per cent after it announced it had signed an agreement to supply the COVID-19 rapid diagnostic test to Australia, with product expected to arrive in the country by early April.

However, the Commonwealth Deputy Chief Medical Officer, Professor Paul Kelly, said people "should be very wary of the point of care test."

"The rapid tests are based on serology which is testing your body's response to the virus and so in the acute setting, where someone is sick with this virus, those tests have a limited capability to test whether people do indeed have the virus or not," he said.

Other standouts included generic company Mayne Pharma, which rose over 25 per cent, followed by Cochlear (15.7 per cent), CSL (12.02 per cent), Resmed and Mesoblast (6 per cent), 

Alliance for cancer care in Victoria

Some key players in Victoria's cancer treatment sector have joined forces to help coordinate the states' clinical cancer response to COVID-19.

The Victorian Comprehensive Cancer Centre (VCCC) alliance and Monash Partners Comprehensive Cancer Consortium have come together to share, synergise and connect knowledge and resources. 

In a statement, the new Victorian COVID-19 Cancer Network said people with cancer may be at increased risk during the pandemic, adding the aim of the new collaboration is to provide support and advice to clinicians and health care services.

The Network will be governed by a task force that will curate, collate and share guidance, ideas and solutions for health care professionals.

According to Professor Grant McArthur, Executive Director of the VCCC alliance said, “Nimble and pragmatic responses are needed immediately to ensure best possible care can be consistently delivered to all Victorian patients. I have been absolutely blown away by the determination, dedication and willingness of cancer experts from across the state to step forward to share knowledge and resources that will benefit patients everywhere.”

Professor Eva Segelov, Professor Director of Oncology at Monash Health and Monash University, and Clinical Research Director of Monash Partners Comprehensive Cancer Consortium, said the taskforce was a great example of clinicians supporting clinicians for the benefit of their patients. “Healthcare professionals are under pressure like never before. This VCCC and MPCCC collaboration provides much needed resources and information and a forum for sharing and conversations that offers vital support on multiple levels.”

Production of hand sanitiser

The federal government has made it easier for companies to switch to the production of hand sanitiser as a way to bolster supply in response to shortages caused by COVID-19.

In a joint statement, health minister Greg Hunt and industry minister Karen Andrews said the TGA has introduced an urgent legislative instrument and guidance to make it easier for local businesses to manufacture hand sanitiser.

The minister said the new guidance includes sanitisers for use in health care facilities – such as hospitals, aged care and other residential facilities – as well as for general consumer use.

Production of hand sanitiser can now proceed without the requirement of TGA approval or notification, provided one of the two recipes developed by the World Health Organization and endorsed by the US FDA are used.

"Furthermore, if these recipes are used, food grade alcohol, which is cheaper and available in larger qualities than medical grade alcohol, can be used to manufacture the hand sanitisers," they said.

"Strict safety requirements have been placed on the labelling of these products. Manufacturers must also test the alcohol concentrations of each batch, manufacture under sanitary conditions, and maintain records of production to maintain consumer safety."

The ministers said wineries and grape-growers affected by smoke damage caused by the recent bushfires, and boutique distilleries that have lost passing tourist trade, are turning to manufacturing alcohol, the key ingredient in sanitisers.