This report provides Parliament and the public with information on WA Health’s planning to deliver increased COVID-19 testing during a surge in cases. It is the second in our series of limited assurance reviews of WA Health’s preparedness to manage COVID-19 and provides Parliament and the public with information about WA’s testing capacity.
Pathology testing is identified as an important line of defence in controlling the pandemic, ensuring cases of the disease can be identified and confirming when individuals can leave quarantine arrangements. It is vital that during a surge, when there are large numbers of tests needed, samples are correctly collected, and laboratories have the capacity to quickly process and communicate results.
So far, Western Australia has had a relatively low number of COVID-19 cases, and our pathology systems have not been overloaded. To maintain community confidence and wellbeing, which in turn may help support steady and proportionate responses by government and others, it is important that the public sector is prepared to deal with any surge in COVID-19 cases while still providing the ability to test for other health conditions.
This review focussed on PathWest, as the public pathology arm of WA Health. We found that PathWest is dedicated to meeting the challenge of the pandemic and has successfully delivered COVID-19 testing alongside other pathology services. It was reassuring to see that PathWest has prepared for a surge in cases and has critically reviewed its supplies, staffing, and laboratory capacity to process tests. WA Health is in the process of developing a pathology surge plan that includes capacity from both public and private laboratories.
Contact tracing is another important part of WA’s public health response to COVID-19. Western Australia’s efforts in this regard were reviewed as part of the recent National Contact Tracing Review, led by Australia’s Chief Scientist Dr Alan Finkel AO. As the Finkel review was underway at the time of our work, we excised these aspects from the scope of our review. Our Office may review the State’s contact tracing efforts, and other aspects of the COVID-19 response, in the future.
I thank the staff at PathWest, the State Health Incident Coordination Centre, and East Metropolitan Health Service for their cooperation and assistance during this review. The staff my team encountered were all dedicated professionals, working in challenging circumstances to deliver the best health outcomes they can for our community. They are acutely aware of the importance of pathology testing being available in a business as usual way for all health conditions, even in the event of a surge in COVID-19 testing demand.