Doctor blasts Dan Andrews for not ‘fully’ easing Melbourne’s draconian COVID-19 restrictions NOW

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A doctor inundated with patients suffering from mental health conditions during Melbourne‘s crippling Stage Four lockdown has hit out at Premier Daniel Andrews for only partially easing social distancing restrictions in the city.

Dr Stacey Harris wrote in a letter to the Victorian leader she had not seen ‘such devastation with patient’s mental health’ in her 15 years of general practice.

The GP noted she was dealing with between 15 and 20 cases each day related to  mental health compared to only five a day during the same period last year. 

Dr Harris said suicidal children were presenting to her clinic in Camberwell in Melbourne’s east, some as young as 12.

A young woman is pictured exercising in Princes Park on Sunday. A Melbourne GP has called on Premier Daniel Andrews to fully ease the city's strict COVID-19 restrictions to ease the mental health strain on the city's residents

A young woman is pictured exercising in Princes Park on Sunday. A Melbourne GP has called on Premier Daniel Andrews to fully ease the city’s strict COVID-19 restrictions to ease the mental health strain on the city’s residents

Mr Andrews ended Melbourne’s curfew on Monday but has still banned the city’s residents from going 5km away from their homes for exercise.

Dr Harris said the gradual restriction easing – which comes despite only ten COVID-19 infections being confirmed in Victoria on Tuesday – was not enough to help those struggling with their mental health.

‘Five people can meet in a park, and (some school children) go back,’ she told The Australian.

‘Those two things do not address the major mental health issues faced by many more – it’s huge. We could be safely fully open, like in New South Wales.’  

Dr Harris’ open letter, which was co-signed by nine other doctors, said the onslaught of mental health cases during the lockdown meant there were not enough psychiatrists and psychologists to go around.

GP Dr Stacey Harris said the children presenting to her clinic in Melbourne were as young as 12-years-old - some of whom were suicidal

GP Dr Stacey Harris said the children presenting to her clinic in Melbourne were as young as 12-years-old – some of whom were suicidal

‘Seeing children as young as 12 years describe their darkest thoughts, some suicidal, is very disturbing,’ she wrote.

‘They cry how much they are missing school and friends. I am doing many telehealth phone calls to distressed mothers alone with their newborns crying out for help.

‘Patients are afraid to leave their house, even to seek vital medical care.’ 

She called on Mr Andrews to revise Victoria’s road map out of the lockdown enforced to stem the state’s COVID-19 second wave. 

A Melbourne paddleboarder takes advantage of the spring weather and eased restrictions

A Melbourne paddleboarder takes advantage of the spring weather and eased restrictions

Premier Daniel Andrews ended Melbourne's curfew on Monday but has still banned the city's residents from going 5km away from their homes for exercise

Premier Daniel Andrews ended Melbourne’s curfew on Monday but has still banned the city’s residents from going 5km away from their homes for exercise

‘If we follow the data from overseas, as well as interstate experience which shows we can safely open up with more robust contact tracing, we can in your words, “learn to live with this virus safely”.’   

Victoria on Tuesday recorded 10 new coronavirus cases and seven more deaths as Melburnians enjoyed their first curfew-free evening in eight weeks.

The latest figures come a day after the state recorded its lowest number of daily new infections since June 12. 

Mystery surrounds 27 cases which came from an unknown source, which are all in Melbourne. 

GPs’ plea to Daniel Andrews to fully ease COVID-19 restrictions

Dear Premier Andrews, I am a GP working in a large clinic in Melbourne and I have never in my 15 years of general practice seen such devastation with patients’ mental health. 

Due to the continuing harsh lockdown, the children, young adults and new mothers I mainly treat are in anguish, despair and have no hope.   

The purpose of this letter is to plead with you to look at what we can reopen safely. We will still protect the vulnerable and elderly and continue important public health measures of social distancing, mask wearing and hand sanitisation. 

Your government’s efforts have achieved a large reduction with the initial lockdown. As we see a lower daily case rate, now should be a time to work to reduce the unhealthy social isolation that has contributed to other adverse health outcomes. I see approximately 180-200 patients per week and it is disturbing what the effect lockdown is causing.

I am doing 15-20 mental health care consultations daily, in comparison to 3-5 this time last year. I have many 12-15 year olds so depressed that I have no other option but to put them on antidepressants. As this lockdown moves into months not weeks, access to psychiatrists and psychologists is now almost impossible and/or the wait is too long. Seeing children as young as 12 years describe their darkest thoughts, some suicidal, is very disturbing. They cry how much they are missing school and friends. 

I am doing many telehealth phone calls to distressed mothers alone with their newborns crying out for help. Postnatal depression is a huge concern. Other health concerns I have are people not coming in to the clinic to have their routine checks, blood tests and immunisations. 

Patients are afraid to leave their house, even to seek vital medical care. We are not diagnosing other important health conditions like cancer and heart disease, which take many Australian lives every year.

Premier Andrews, please consider revising the current Victorian roadmap to COVID normal. If we follow the data from overseas, as well as interstate experience which shows we can safely open up with more robust contact tracing, we can in your words, ‘learn to live with this virus safely’.

Striving for elimination comes at huge cost and may not even be achievable. Children need to return to school in term 4 and new mothers need social connectivity as does the whole community.

There are also many industries which have not shown to contribute to the spread of COVID-19, which should reopen, as financial strain is also contributing to this mental health crisis.

This is my experience but there are many other concerned GPs and specialists who have witnessed a similar trend and agree and endorse these sentiments. We have a huge health crisis on our hands which is much more than COVID-19. 

The World Health Organisation states that health is ‘a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity’ 

Harsh lockdowns like here in Victoria are doing more harm than good. I implore you to review this urgently to provide hope for us all. 

Yours Sincerely, Dr Stacey Harris MBBS FRACGP

Dr Lesley Hoy MBC HB Dip Obst FRACGP

Dr Julie Doswell BSc MBBS

Dr Paul E Gassin MBBS

Dr David Anderson MBBS FRACGP MPH

Dr Mary Walsh MBBS FRACGP

Dr Lucia Murnane MBBS FRACGP DCH GradDipBioethics FCP NFPMC

Dr Roheela D’Cruz MBBS FRACGP MPH

Dr James Quinn MBBS FRACGP

Professor John Murtagh Emeritus Professor AO Academic General Practitioner 

*The signatories do not represent the opinions of their employers 

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