Hidden cost set to be passed on to patients
Doctors stung by $10,000 bills for medical masks have warned they may charge patients more to cover the cost, as hospitals crack down on pilfering of protective gear.
Australian Medical Association Queensland president Chris Perry, who is an ear, nose and throat surgeon, said he had spent $13,000 on masks and gowns since the COVID-19 crisis in March.
He said some GPs were struggling to pay inflated prices for medical masks for staff and patients, after prices soared from $1 to more than $6 for an N95 respirator mask, and from 20 cents to a dollar for a surgical mask.
He called on the federal government to increase Medicare rebates for GPs to cover the cost of personal protective equipment (PPE).
"It's a pandemic and GPs are frontline health workers,'' Dr Perry said.
"The cost does add up - $7 or $8 to cover the cost of PPE takes a significant portion out of the bulk-billing consult of $35.''
Dr Perry said some hospitals are now handing masks to surgeons and nurses as they enter the operating theatre, instead of providing boxes of masks in the change rooms.
"These days they're handed out like they're gold,'' he said.
"In some hospitals they're given out to people coming into the operating theatre - not in the change room because boxes disappear.
"It's staff - people want to look after themselves and their families.''
Brisbane GP Maria Boulton yesterday said her clinic had spent at least $10,000 on masks and gowns since March.
"We don't want to increase our fees because everybody's suffering, but I don't think there is enough cash in general practice,'' Dr Boulton said.
"We're giving masks out at the moment for free but it's not something we'll be able to continue doing.''
Dr Boulton said she received 500 surgical masks and 40 N95 masks for free through the federally funded Primary Health Networks in Friday, which would last her clinic three or four days.
Royal Australian College of General Practitioners Queensland chairman Bruce Willett said yesterday he had also spent $10,000 on protective gear.
"We're going through 300 masks a day,'' Dr Willett said.
"We're asking patients to bring their own but a lot don't.
"We're going to have to soon ask patients to pay for them.''