Helping the health system navigate towards the ‘new normal’

A consumer recently described the challenge facing Queensland Health as it pivoted to face a pandemic on a scale not previously experienced during the past 100 years, as like expecting “a massive ship to turn on a dime.”

Indeed, at Health Consumers Queensland we have never seen the health system work this hard and this collaboratively to care for its consumers. Bureaucracy and inflexibility have given way to connectedness, transparency and agility as different departments, HHSs and other health sectors (private and community), community controlled health organisations and NGOs share resources, information and expertise to prepare staff and consumers if the curve could not be controlled.

Around the world we have seen how public health systems have been overwhelmed by the numbers of people testing positive for COVID-19 who have required life-saving care. As tough restrictions were imposed across Australia at the end of March, it looked as if we would be following in their wake. However, as the past week has demonstrated, we are instead recording fewer and fewer positive cases.

Now Australia finds itself in a unique position worldwide. Our health systems, including Queensland Health, must turn on their axes once more and re-calibrate as they seek to navigate a ‘’new normal” where a constant state of readiness for COVID-19 can co-exist alongside a reinstatement of some regular health care services including some elective surgery.

Yet just because Queensland Health is able to open up elective surgery right now does not mean it won’t have to suspend it again. We know that this virus is unpredictable and ever-changing and we cannot afford to be complacent.

It will be Queensland Health’s ability to co-design sensitive clinical responses and communication mechanisms with consumers and carers which will help its staff and consumers cope with this level of uncertainty and change, and maintain confidence in its decisions and actions.

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NEW Health Consumers Queensland consumer decision-making guide and FAQs: Is the COVIDSafe app right for you and your family?

Uncertain about downloading the new national COVIDSafe app? Health Consumers Queensland’s new COVIDSafe app decision-making guide sets out the benefits, risks and alternatives. You can read this information online on the Decision-making Guide page.* You can also download our FAQs about using COVIDSafe.

The COVID-19 Community of Interest have rapidly provided their views on the app and the proposed guide. Some wanted clearer information (in different languages) and reassurance about security and the protection of their data or whether their phone could even support the app.  Others had already downloaded it and considered it was cost-effective and time-efficient. Key concerns included data storage, privacy, security of information, the type of data collected, and how the data is shared.

Their input has enabled us to refine and develop this decision-making guide to assist health consumers and carers with information about using the COVIDSafe app.

Health Consumers Queensland respects the rights of health consumers and carers to make informed decisions about their health.

*We will be updating this page regularly as more information becomes available.

What does the easing of restrictions around elective surgery now mean for consumers?​

This week we asked members of our COVID-19 Community of Interest: What matters to you when balancing the fear of being infected with the benefits of receiving ongoing care for your health condition? What barriers do we need to overcome in order to confidently shift our approach to utilize this capacity in the health system and feel reassured about the safety of patients and staff?  How do we best use the private hospital capacity which is now available?

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Are you delaying healthcare due to COVID-19?

The news that we have flattened the curve in Queensland and are not experiencing the anticipated spike in infections and rise in hospital and ICU admissions, is welcome indeed. However, consumers and carers are now facing a further healthcare challenge: grappling with the impact of the lockdown on their ongoing healthcare needs.

Queensland Health is reminding people that hospitals and services are still ‘open’ and regular appointments can be kept. Yet we have heard some people are putting off their routine health care.

This week we asked members of our Consumer Advisory Group, consumer members of the Health Consumer Collaborative of Queensland, the COVID-19 Community of Interest and our followers on Facebook whether they had delayed any of their regular healthcare, if it was clear to them what care is continuing and what is being postponed, and how has this been communicated?

The key issues and concerns which emerged during the conversations included:

  • Difficulty in accessing care when in self-isolation.
  • Risk of inadvertently causing infection.
  • What is open and what is not.
  • Too much of a risk to go for routine tests including blood tests or keep appointments with specialists.
  • Vulnerable people have been advised to expect to remain in isolation until next year and planned surgeries have been postponed but what about waiting lists after this time.
  • The health consequences of waiting and postponing.
  • Deciding to put off new knees and hips and get by on steroid injections for the next 12 months.
  • Confusion and concern around cancellation of ante-natal classes for new parents-to-be.
  • Lack of communication around closure of transplant centres and the impact of this decision on people’s health and these precious resources.
  • How do we monitor symptoms and know when to go to hospital.
  • There have been no letters or phonecalls despite surgery needing to be done within three months
  • The sense of being just left hanging.
  • Inconsistencies in information are causing fear and particularly those of mature ages and with co-morbidities.
  • Communication methods need to address all levels of health literacy.
  • The system is not designed for particular groups or particular conditions. It is not reaching us at a place-based level.

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Lifting the Line

Planning and decision-making around the public health system response to COVID-19 is urgent and must factor in an ever-changing landscape. Quality consultation with consumers is in high demand and often takes place with less than 24 hours turn-around.  These challenges for Health Consumers Queensland and Queensland Health mean we need to work closely together to ensure consumers are brought in at the right time to influence plans, and public-facing communications and directives.

In this week’s eAlert we bring you an update on the latest work with consumers and staff and share how your input is impacting how Queensland Health is supporting and informing Queenslanders around COVID-19.

The importance of the consumer-staff partnership at this time has also been highlighted by John Wakefield, the Director General of Queensland Health. Every week he sends a message to all staff members at Queensland Health and we are grateful to him for allowing us to share an excerpt from his latest message, “Lifting the line”, with our network.

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Queensland Health staff: How to get rapid consumer consultation on your COVID-19 work

Health Consumers Queensland has been having regular video-based Consumer Conversations about the Queensland public health system’s response to COVID-19 with groups of health consumers and carers across the state.\We invite Queensland Health staff to use these established mechanisms to consult consumers and carers on your work. During COVID-19, we understand that work happens quickly. These groups work on an agile agenda, so consumer input on short notice is readily achievable eg. a 24 hour turnaround.  

Download our new information sheet and find out who we’re listening to, what’s being asked, when the conversations are taking place and how to access the rapid consumer input you need.

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Consumers: How to use Zoom and ensure your voice is heard during COVID-19

We are working to ensure that the consumer voice remains at the heart of the COVID-19 health response. One of the most effective ways to share your views right now is via online video conferencing platforms like Zoom. We would like to help you build your skills to use Zoom with confidence so that you can host and join meetings online, self-organise and have an impact on planning and decision-making in your regions and local communities.

Zoom is free and easy to download if you have a computer which has a microphone, camera and reliable internet.

If you are new to Zoom, take a look at these resources to get up and running.

Written instructions

Getting Started with Zoom

Using the Zoom controls within a meeting


How to join a Zoom meeting

Using meeting controls. This video also discusses controlling a meeting from the host’s point of view, but does have useful information for participants about using Zoom.

Consumers continue to be part of important decision-making

Health Consumers Queensland is working hard to make sure health consumers continue to be part of important decision-making – even during a global pandemic

We are doing this by attending daily or weekly meetings on:

  • Clinical matters
  • Mental health
  • Disability health
  • Community health
  • Stakeholder networks
  • Communications
  • Maternity
  • and with other NGOs.

We also connected with health consumer organisations across the country to share strategies and resources.

Do you feel you have the right information to make decisions on COVID-19 for you and your family?

31 members of our new COVID-19 Community of Interest Group and the Department of Health joined a ‘Consumer Conversations’ feedback session via Zoom yesterday. We asked them:

– Do you feel you have the right information to make decisions on COVID-19 for you and your family?
– What is causing concern or confusion right now?
– Where are you getting good information, and where are you getting support?

Their feedback communicated an urgent need for clear, truthful, inclusive and consistent messaging from governments at state and federal level.

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