NSW will transition to a pathology referral model for COVID-19 PCR testing, meaning only your doctor will be able to request a PCR test, as COVID-19 cases across the state increase.
Last week there were 12,393 cases of COVID-19 reported in NSW, up from 9,646 the week before, and 8,825 the week before that. 1351 of those were in the Hunter New England Health District, up from 1053 the week before.
Minister for Health Ryan Park said it is the right time to move away from the current testing arrangements, which will end on 13 May 2023.
“I want to thank all of the healthcare staff who have worked tirelessly in testing clinics across the state to help keep the community safe during the pandemic.” Mr Park said.
“However, since January we’ve seen a significant reduction in demand for PCR testing driven by changes in health recommendations, testing behaviour and increased access to rapid antigen tests (RATs).”
“Over the next few weeks, we will be transitioning to a new model of COVID testing to support the current and future needs of the community.”
Chief Health Officer Dr Kerry Chant said for the majority of the population, RATs are the most convenient and appropriate test. PCR testing is important for those most at risk of severe COVID and as recommend by treating clinicians.
“PCR testing requested by a medical or nurse practitioner will continue to be available at private pathology services with a referral form,” Dr Chant said.
“This will ensure effective, fast diagnosis so those who are most at risk are able to get timely access to antiviral therapies.”
However, access to anti-virals is still heavily restricted and there is some doubt about the accuracy of RATs. Armidale woman Sarah said she had multiple negative RAT tests before her doctor told her to get a PCR test, which was positive.
“Two weeks I was walking around sick, but confident it wasn’t Covid because of the negative RATs,” she said.
“I feel horrible thinking about the number of people who may have gotten it because I genuinely thought it was just allergies or the head cold that I often get this time of year as people start lighting their fires in Armidale.”
“Getting in to see a doctor is so hard in Armidale – the people who make these decisions just don’t think about that in Sydney.”
Sarah says that despite being asthmatic and having a number of risk factors for severe COVID-19, she doesn’t qualify for the antivirals as she is under 50.
“I’d like them, I’ve been too sick for too long – but they just won’t give them to me.”
“I don’t understand why they’re hoarding them,” she said.
To access the antiviral medications like Paxlovid you still need to be:
- aged over 70,
- aged over 50 with two or more risk factors,
- aged over 30 and Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander with 1 or more risk factors, or
- aged over 18 an immunocompromised.
NSW Health say they work with stakeholders to ensure priority access to free RATs for groups in most need, including Aboriginal communities, the aged care and disability sectors, CALD communities, and rural and remote populations, and that RATs are available for free through health settings, non-government organisations, local councils, and Service NSW centres.
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