The Government squandered the opportunity to properly prepare for COVID-19 in the community, leaving regional health services under pressure, businesses struggling to operate and vulnerable people without support, said Independent Federal Member for Indi Helen Haines.

Dr Haines has criticised the lack of preparation and sudden shifts in policy by the federal government that have left the public confused and distressed; and put extra strain on health services as numbers of COVID-19 in the community increase.

“I have been in contact with the local Public Health Unit, the Primary Health Network, GPs, pharmacists and hospitals to get an accurate account of the local situation with COVID-19, and while I am confident in their staff and expertise, I am so angry to hear how they have been let down by the Government,” Dr Haines said.

“Weary front-line health staff are learning of policy changes at the same time as the public. GP practices have told me that their phones rang off the hook after the Prime Minister announced that we should contact our GP if we test positive on a rapid test.

“Many of the same practices are trying to manage their own staff shortages and facilitate booster shots while also preparing to vaccinate children before school starts.

“This week a small local health service in Indi was forced to temporarily close its acute and urgent care service, because a significant number of staff were in isolation and there was no surge workforce available. If someone needed care during that time they would have needed to travel a long distance to a bigger town or call 000.”

Dr Haines said Australians were right to feel let down and ask how the Government could be caught so unprepared despite being almost two years into the pandemic and health experts sounding the alarm about the Omicron variant.

“I wrote to Prime Minister Scott Morrison in September last year, calling for extra resources and planning for regional health services to prepare for the next stage of the pandemic,” Dr Haines said.

“After spending the majority of my career as a nurse and midwife in regional Victoria it was plain to see that COVID-19 would put unacceptable pressure on regional health services, but Mr Morrison brushed off my concerns, and those of the thousands of people who signed the open letter.

“We’ve seen a delay at every stage of this pandemic when we’ve had due warning, we have completely squandered any advantage we had from seeing what other countries faced before us. At every point the federal government has waited until crisis point to take action.

“It is unbelievable that none of this – the pressure on testing centres, the supply of rapid antigen tests, the workforce issues – has been planned for. People are angry and confused and I understand that.

“People can’t do the right thing even if they want to and that’s astonishing in a public health crisis.”

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