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ABC News
ABC News
by Emma D'Agostino, James Findlay and Shannon Schubert

COVID, flu cases rise in central Victoria as patient demand challenges health system

Bendigo doctors are urging resident to get vaccinated against the flu as cases rise.

Bendigo Health is urging people to take "personal responsibility" to halt the spread of respiratory illnesses as COVID and flu cases rise in the region.

It comes after the Bendigo region recorded the state's highest rate of COVID-19 cases per 100,000 people, as well as a rise in cases of Influenza A.

Bendigo Health acting chief medical officer Daryl Kroschel said the health service was feeling the impact of reduced COVID restrictions.

"We have numerous staff on sick leave each day because of respiratory illness and we are dealing with sicker patients, some of whom require acute care," Dr Kroschel said.

Bendigo Primary Care Centre is receiving more than 900 calls a day, with hundreds from people seeking one of 50 on-the-day appointments available.

Acting general manager Callum Wright said the centre's staff were trying as hard as possible.

Bendigo Primary Care's Callum Wright is asking the community to be understanding as GP clinics face huge demand.  (ABC Central Victoria: Shannon Schubert)

"But at the moment phone calls just for appointments probably outstrip our ability to service them by about three times on any given day," Mr Wright said.

"Usually with our workforce we can cope with between 350 and 400 calls and on any given day there are 50 on-the-day appointments with a GP.

He said another 450 appointments were booked well in advance.

Graem Kelly says regional GP shortages are getting worse as demand for primary care increases.  (ABC Central Victoria: Shannon Schubert)

Bendigo Community Health Service manager Graem Kelly said Central Victoria had lost half a dozen general practitioners and costs had risen while demand for primary care also ramped up.

"The whole system's under stress," Mr Kelly said.

"People just need to be understanding, masks should be worn in high risk areas."

Bendigo Community Health Services chief executive Gerard José said there were sick people who could not access on-the-day appointments to see their GP.

"Added to that is the impact of COVID-19 and influenza on our workforces – which means we often have to cancel appointments for patients if our staff or their families are unwell," he said.

Bendigo Primary Care and Bendigo Community Health Services have called for understanding and reiterated Bendigo Health's reminder to be vigilant about reducing the spread of respiratory illness.

Bendigo Health says about 60 per cent of the local population has received a third dose of a COVID vaccine.  (Rawpixel: Chanikarn Thongsupa)

'Don't wait to vaccinate', doctors say

Dr Kroschel urged residents not to delay in getting their influenza vaccinations.

"What we're seeing is that it is an early flu season this year, with case numbers going up quite significantly week-on-week, so the message is very clear – don't wait," he said.

"Get on and get your flu vaccination now."

He also urged residents eligible for a third or fourth COVID-19 vaccination to get the jab.

"We know that in the Greater Bendigo region only about 60 per cent of people have actually had their third dose," Dr Kroschel said.

He attributed a high number of COVID cases among people aged over 60 to waning immunity after the third dose of the vaccine.

Dr Kroschel said it was possible to receive COVID and flu vaccinations on the same day, or to stagger appointments by about a week.

He urged people to remain vigilant about hand hygiene and physical distancing and to host events outdoors where possible.

Dr Kroschel said it was okay to wear a mask indoors, even in settings where they were no longer mandatory.

United States passes grim milestone of one million COVID-19 deaths.
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