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'Virtual' treatment for COVID-infected SA children

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Children who become mildly infected with COVID-19 after SA reopens its borders will be treated at home via videoconferences with medical staff, while a dedicated treatment space will be set up at the Women’s and Children’s Hospital for those whose infections are more serious.

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The State Government announced a short time ago that more than $3.7 million will be spent on a new service to treat children who become infected with COVID-19 once the state reopens its borders as planned on November 23.

The service, called “COVIDKIDS”, will be run by a team of paediatric nurses, doctors and other supporting staff from the Women’s and Children’s Hospital, who will use GPAT – a GP liaison service –  to remotely assess and monitor infectious children via videoconference if their condition is not deemed serious enough to warrant hospital care but who are at high risk.

Children will be referred to the service by SA Health’s rapid response care team, which is responsible for triaging all people in South Australia with COVID.

For the approximate five per cent of infectious children who are projected to require admission, they will be treated in a new segregated space at the Women’s and Children’s Hospital, which will have its own separate entrance off King William Road and include 32 beds.

Health Minister Stephen Wade said the Government would upgrade the ventilation and air-conditioning systems in the space to ensure it was safe for patients.

But he said most children with COVID-19 would either have no symptoms or only mild symptoms and would not require in-patient care.

“The new virtual COVIDKIDS service engages experienced paediatric nurses, doctors and other supporting staff from the Women’s and Children’s Hospital to assess children with COVID-19 without them and their families needing to leave home,” he said.

“This service builds on the success of the hospital’s Child and Adolescent Virtual Urgent Care Service which has provided almost 500 families with medical assessment and advice from their home as part of a pilot launched earlier this year.

“By expanding the hospital’s virtual care capacity, we are ensuring that the projected 95 per cent of children and young people with COVID-19 who can be cared for outside of a hospital setting can be, freeing up our hospitals for those who need them.”

If a child’s condition deteriorates, doctors and nurses assigned to the COVIDKIDS service will organise for them to be admitted to hospital.

Women’s and Children’s Health Network CEO Lindsey Gough said the service aimed to minimise the spread of COVD-19.

“Children can be ‘admitted’ to the virtual COVIDKIDS service via GPAT, a GP liaison service, and then be contacted and assessed by a paediatrician and experienced paediatric nurse by videoconference,” she said.

“This team will decide how frequently the child requires monitoring, which may be once a day via a phone call from a paediatric nurse, or up to twice daily with a doctor/nurse team via videoconference.

“Parents will also be asked to monitor their child’s health and wellbeing including temperature, breathing, and eating and drinking.”

It comes after senior nurses at the Women’s and Children’s Hospital told a parliamentary inquiry in August that there was “chronic” understaffing at the hospital, causing some childhood cancer patients to have their treatment postponed.

Emergency department doctors have also spoken out, saying while the hospital’s executive had approved some temporary staffing to deal with COVID, the move was “unrelated to the systemic understaffing and extreme patient risks” already present at the hospital.

They said in September that the Women’s and Children’s Hospital would go into “semi-disaster” mode if COVID-19 case numbers increased in South Australia.

But Wade told reporters this morning that the hospital had been “COVID-ready for months now”.

“We will be making sure that kids have the care they need and the Women’s and Children’s Hospital is confident they’ll be able to provide all the care needs for South Australian children and young people as we open up our borders,” he said.

Wade added that Treasurer Rob Lucas had been “very receptive to my suggestions that we need additional investment in this hospital”.

“I’m sure that he’ll make the announcement at the appropriate time.”

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