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Community sector pushes to get more free RATs in the hands of vulnerable Aussies

11 January 2022 at 5:01 pm
Luke Michael
Charities say rapid antigen tests should be free and available for all Australians

Luke Michael | 11 January 2022 at 5:01 pm


Community sector pushes to get more free RATs in the hands of vulnerable Aussies
11 January 2022 at 5:01 pm

Charities say rapid antigen tests should be free and available for all Australians   

Frontline community service providers must be included in the distribution plan for free rapid antigen tests (RATs) to ensure at-risk groups are protected, sector leaders say.  

Amid Australia’s surge in Omicron COVID cases, the requirement for people to undertake a PCR test to confirm a positive RAT result has been removed, in a bid to take pressure off PCR testing queues.          

But many Australians have struggled to access RATs recently, with overwhelming demand causing many chemists and supermarkets to run out of stock quickly.     

There have also been examples of price gouging, with reports of some RATs being sold for as much as $65 on Uber Eats.

In response, Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced last week that RATs will be made free to 6.6 million concession cardholders as part of a new National Cabinet agreement.

Up to 10 RATs will be available for eligible people over three months through the national pharmacy network.

RATs are also currently free at state testing clinics for COVID close contacts and those who have symptoms.        

But the community sector remains concerned that vulnerable cohorts will fall through the cracks and still miss out on access to RATs.

Sector leaders have warned that many marginalised people – including those seeking asylum, international students and some people with disability – do not have an appropriate concession card, or cannot access a pharmacy.     

The National Council of the St Vincent de Paul Society has called for RATs to be made freely available to all people living in Australia, or at the very least given to emergency relief not for profits to distribute. 

The Australian Council of Social Service (ACOSS) holds a similar view. CEO Dr Cassandra Goldie told Pro Bono News that the best way to protect the whole community was for governments to provide reliable free RATs to everyone, with protective measures in place to prevent stockpiling and hoarding of items.

She said a system to send free RATs directly to people by post works well in the UK and ensures vulnerable people can receive them without having to go out into the community.

“We need to make these test kits as fully available and accessible as we possibly can,” Goldie said.

“If somebody wants to get a test, then we should trust that they’re making the best decision they can to keep themselves safe and help keep everybody else safe.”

ACOSS says community services form a crucial part of the distribution network

Goldie noted there was a lack of clarity about how to obtain free RATs, which made things more difficult for low-income people – a cohort found to be dying of COVID at four times the rate of other groups.

She said rather than taking a private market sector approach, governments should turn to the community sector for distribution. 

“It is imperative that essential frontline community service providers be included in the distribution plan for free RATs, as they already provide support to many of the at-risk groups who may not be able to access free tests or understand how to administer the test at home,” she said.

“We anticipate it will still be challenging for people with disability, women fleeing domestic violence, First Nations people, especially in remote communities and people with English as a second language to find out about and access RATs at chemists. 

“Services who already reach out to these at-risk groups are well placed to provide them with timely COVID tests.”

Amid the testing difficulties, some charities are having to dig into their own funds to purchase RATs.

The Asylum Seekers Resource Centre, for example, has spent tens of thousands of dollars to provide RATs to its staff and clients.  

Goldie said this cannot be allowed to continue, noting that ACOSS has now reached out to the federal government demanding action. 

“We should not be placing pressure on community organisations to use their precious funds to purchase RATs,” she said.

“We’ve raised our concerns publicly over the last couple of weeks about the need to provide RATs for free and for community service organisations to be a part of the distribution network. We are now writing urgently to the government to call for this to be delivered.” 

Luke Michael  |  Journalist  |  @luke_michael96

Luke Michael is a journalist at Pro Bono News covering the social sector.

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One comment

  • Jill Morgan says:

    We are a disability service in North-West Victoria, a not-for-profit organisation servicing 140 plus NDIS participants and 150 support staff. Over the last week we have had an outbreak of COVID19, having to suspend services for the week whilst staff and participants are waiting on PCR results. But the advise we keep getting from the DOH is RAT test if you have symptoms or think you may be a close contact. However as your article states i am trying to find out whether we can access free RATS for staff and participants to test before attending. Aged Care is looked after in this way, but have been advised that disability isn’t included. Even if we wanted to purchase some suppliers are asking for a 10,000 minimum order and that is beyond our reach.
    Hopefully the government realise their are more vulnerable sectors out there.

    Thank you

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