Queensland’s Chief Health Officer has highlighted the long-term health impacts for patients who have contracted coronavirus, but what ramifications is the virus likely to have on the state’s health system?
- The Queensland Government has committed $2.4 billion to a health package responding to the pandemic
- A US study estimates coronavirus treatment is four times costlier than that for the flu
- Telehealth treatment could inflate medical costs in the long term, experts say
UQ School of Economics research director Brenda Gannon said it was still too early to forecast the economic impacts of the pandemic on the state’s health service, but she said it would be costly.
“No-one has done it here in Australia, or indeed anywhere actually, in projecting forward because the issue is follow-up costs have to be included,” she said.
“For example, once the person recovers from COVID, [there’s] x-rays, pathology, medication and future hospitalisation, so we don’t know what the follow-up epidemiology will be of this yet.
“Even for a person who doesn’t go into hospital, in the United States they found the average cost of a person with COVID was around $3,000, and they say that’s four times the cost of treating a person with the flu, so it’s quite an expensive virus.”
The Australian Government has committed $2.4 billion for a health package to support primary care, aged care, hospitals, research and the national medical stockpile during the pandemic.
The Queensland Government has set aside $1.2 billion to respond to coronavirus, funding which will double intensive care capacity, triple emergency department capacity, increase the number of paramedics, ambulances, acute care services and expand fever clinics, along with a raft of other measures.
Professor Gannon said measures such as telehealth had been great for healthcare during the pandemic but could become costly in the long run.
“I do think it could be an expensive item going into the future and, if it is going to be used, it will have to be re-evaluated at least annually to ensure the costs are there for good reasons and they’re looking after people with healthcare needs,” she said.
“The other thing is the COVID crisis has really highlighted the aged care sector across Australia and the world … so the main aim for the future would be we want to have people at home and out of hospital, regardless of COVID.
“You also have to consider the current and long-term cost to productivity losses to the labour force, even education losses to people in the future.
Health authorities had to ‘rewrite rule book’
Jeannette Young, Queensland’s Chief Health Officer, said the state’s tough border restrictions were in place to reduce the number of people contracting the virus and having to live with future health issues.
“We’re now eight months in and we’re learning that this is not a disease of the respiratory system,” Dr Young said.
“That might be how it’s transmitted, but it’s not flu.
“It affects every cell in the body and leaves long-lasting problems for different organs in the body, whether that be the heart or the kidneys, the brain, the lungs — so it is really important that we minimise the number of people who get this disease.
Dr Young, who has come under mounting criticism due to her stance on border restrictions, said responses and processes were being refined as authorities learned more about the disease.
“Unfortunately, there’s no rule book for this pandemic,” she said.
“We had to, right at the start, rewrite the rule book for and we’re now still learning about this virus and the processes we’ve put in place.”
COVID-19 can cause high levels of inflammation in the body, with the immune system going into overdrive to get rid of it, which can impact the body’s vital organs.
Last week, Queensland Health Minister Steven Miles said an 81-year-old man who was on the Ruby Princess cruise ship had spent 77-days in ICU, making him the state’s COVID-19 patient in hospital the longest.
The man will be moved to a rehabilitation bed for treatment this week.