05 January 2022

RACGP: Rapid Antigen Tests must be freely available for all

The Royal Australian College of General Practitioners (RACGP) is calling on the federal Government to urgently expand access to rapid antigen tests.

The RACGP is calling on the Government to:

·    provide general practice with a stock of rapid antigen tests for patients with a medical history or symptoms that suggest a test is needed

·    provide high risk locations such as supported accommodation and aged care facilities with a stock of rapid antigen tests

·    provide free access to all people in Australia, supply permitting, and prioritising target populations during any periods of short supply.

RACGP President Dr Karen Price said that more urgency was needed.

“We must do everything possible to ensure that anyone can access a rapid antigen test when they need one,” she said.

“PCR testing is struggling to meet enormous demand as cases surge and rapid antigen tests can play an important role in protecting the health system and the community.

“Without access to PCR testing, those who are COVID-19-positive cannot access pathways of clinical care for COVID-19 in the community including remote monitoring of symptoms and escalation if symptoms worsen. Unless they have a positive COVID-19 diagnosis, patients also cannot access the COVID-19 treatment sotrovimab. Furthermore, their close contacts are at risk of spreading COVID-19 further as they are simply not aware that they are at risk.

“Delays in accessing PCR testing as well as delays in receiving the results mean that rapid antigen tests need to be accessible to all people right away. Case numbers are dramatically escalating in many parts of Australia, especially New South Wales and my home state of Victoria, and there is no time to lose.

“It also makes perfect sense to provide practices and high-risk locations such as aged care facilities with ample stock of these tests. A straightforward move like this could make a huge difference in helping patients particularly vulnerable to the effects of the virus determine whether or not they have COVID-19.”

Dr Price said that if supply constraints occurred priority populations must be prioritised.

“If at times we don’t have enough rapid antigen tests to make them freely available for all people in Australia, we must target the priority populations to ensure that those most at risk do still have access to free supply,” she said.

“Priority populations include those at high risk of disease due to underlying health conditions and obesity, people aged 65 and over, people in communities where vaccination rates are lower such as Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities, and those with complex care needs such as people living with a disability or in residential aged care.

“It also includes those in living high density households, people working in high-risk professions such as healthcare workers and hospitality workers, people in populations that have the highest prevalence of COVID-19 and a high likelihood of transmission such as those aged between 20 to 30 years and those who cannot be vaccinated such as children aged five and under.

“They must be front of mind because if they can’t access a rapid antigen test when they need one the consequences could well prove dire.

“This pandemic is far from over and we must fight as hard as we can to protect those most at risk. Although there is emerging evidence that the Omicron variant leads to less severe symptoms than other variants, we are not out of the woods because with escalating case numbers we will see more and more people require hospital care, and there will be much more pressure on our already overburdened health system. 

“The time for action is now. If we can help people identify whether or not they have the virus through freely available rapid antigen tests we can limit community transmission and protect the most vulnerable members of our community.”

Media enquiries

Journalists and media outlets seeking comment and information from the RACGP can contact:

John Ronan

Senior Media Advisor