South West Healthcare has responded to a critical worker shortage by changing its protocols to allow staff to work even if they are household contacts of a positive COVID-19 case.
The new directives were shared with staff via an internal hospital Facebook page and leaked to The Standard by a concerned employee.
Any staff member who is a close or household contact of a positive case must receive a negative rapid antigen test result before their shift.
"If you HAVE been deemed a close contact or have a person in your house who has tested positive, you are still able to attend work if you are NOT symptomatic AND have received a negative Rapid Antigen Test (RAT) before commencing your shift," the statement said. "To clarify, this is still the case if you have household contacts who are symptomatic or who are positive cases."
SWH chief executive Craig Fraser said the change had been made on Tuesday because so many staff were either testing positive or becoming close contacts of positive cases.
"SWH are adapting how we test any staff in this situation and will continually review this in line with department guidelines to ensure we can provide a safe service but also to ensure our core health service operations continue," he said.
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Asked whether he could rule out COVID-positive staff having to treat patients, as has happened in NSW due to worker shortages, Mr Fraser said that was "not currently an option we have discussed or considered".
SWH has made rapid antigen tests available free for all eligible staff. Staff who become symptomatic or receive a positive RAT result have so far had to queue for a PCR test like any member of the general public.
Mr Fraser said SWH had made arrangements for staff to receive PCR tests between 10am and 12pm on Thursday at the Merri Street testing facility, which was closed to the public on Tuesday after SWH shifted testing to its pop-up Deakin University site.
The Deakin testing site was inundated when it opened on Wednesday morning, with queues stretching beyond a kilometre.
Authorities were forced to start turning people away at 1.50pm despite the facility not closing until 6pm because wait times had blown out beyond 4.5 hours.
It came as the south-west recorded 140 new cases on Wednesday, with 46 in Warrnambool.
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