It’s the coronavirus essential that’s now rarer than toilet paper — but this shortage will see doctors forced to turn away patients.
It’s the coronavirus essential that’s now rarer than toilet paper — but this shortage will see doctors forced to turn away patients.

The one thing that’s rarer than toilet paper

DOCTORS have threatened to turn away flu-stricken patients unless they get urgent supplies of face masks, which are "rarer than toilet paper''.

Royal Australian College of General Practitioners Queensland chairman Bruce Willett, a Redlands Coast GP, warned that doctors were still short of protective masks to treat patients with coronavirus symptoms.

"(Medical) practices will have to make some serious decisions to potentially turn away any patient (with flu-like symptoms) if we can't treat them safely and protect the staff and other patients,'' he told T he Courier-Mail.

"It is worrying that we have not seen more masks arriving.''

A week after the Federal Government announced it had bought 54 million more face masks, Dr Willett revealed that his clinic had only be given one P2 protective mask for each of its 18 GPs.

He said desperate GPs were still trying to buy masks at Bunnings and on eBay.

"Surgical masks are now rarer than toilet paper,'' he said.

"We haven't been able to access them for some weeks now - we're sweating on the government releasing the stockpile.''

Dr Willett said the Federal Government's Primary Health Network had given his clinic at Victoria Point one box of 50 surgical and 18 P2 masks early last week.

He said his clinic required a couple of hundred surgical masks, as they had to be changed every half an hour.

Dr Willett said surgical masks should be used for all patients with respiratory symptoms to prevent germs spreading, while GPs need P2 masks to protect them from infection.

He said masks were being rationed to treat patients at high risk of coronavirus, such as those who had been overseas.

"We need masks to keep us safe,'' he said.

"I have a responsibility to provide a safe workplace for everyone and that goes for nurses and receptionists.''

Dr Willett said doctors' clinics were setting up separate waiting areas for patients with flu symptoms, or asking them to wait in their cars for treatment.

He said some clinics were nominating one doctor, dressed "in full protective gear'', to see patients with coronavirus symptoms.

Dr Willett said patients with flu symptoms only need a coronavirus test if they've recently been overseas, or in close contact with a known carrier.

"People are panicking unnecessarily,'' he said.

"There is no point being tested unless you've been overseas.

"We know that 80 per cent of people will have a fairly mild disease.''

Dr Willett said the best thing for anyone with a cold or flu was to "stay at home'', unless they had underlying health issues such as asthma.

"If they rush to a fever clinic it increases their chance of contracting it,'' he said.

"They're better off staying at home where it's close to zero.

"It's not like the plague, but it is a significant public health issue and older Australians will bear the brunt of that.''