Victoria's health department has "failed" in responding to COVID-19, says one GP who is calling for a restructure that better caters for regional areas.
Catherine Orr worked at Gateway Health in Wodonga for six years and relocated to Melbourne prior to the pandemic's outbreak.
Dr Orr said the difference between the health departments in Victoria and NSW was clear during her work on the border, and was even more so now, continuing her work in community health.
"We knew the public health staff in Murrumbidgee Local Health District by name, they knew where we worked, and what all the local services were - you felt it was very much a locally-based service," she said.
"The Victorian DHHS has to be decentralised and region-based, and it has to incorporate community health services, community health nurses and GPs.
"We have to totally get away from party politics ... objectively look at this and say 'The health system in NSW is better, it's working better, it's better structured and it's better funded'.
"The health system in Victoria has failed us."
Dr Orr said it shouldn't have been six months into the pandemic that DHHS created a real-time, online database for notifying COVID-19.
"When you ring to notify COVID, despite where you're ringing from, you are ringing a centralised call centre, so the person you speak to doesn't necessarily know the health service you work for," she said.
"I just started to see the slowness of the contact tracing.
"Patients were not contacted by DHHS for days and days."
At the only privately-run COVID-19 clinic in Wodonga established by Central Medical Group, doctors have not yet had to notify a positive case.
But Greg Gladman understood the process had changed in recent weeks.
"Certainly a few weeks ago my medical networks were saying it needed a phone call to Melbourne and doctors were often left waiting on hold for hours," he said.
"About two or three weeks ago, they commenced a call-back line, so you could ring a number and request a call-back, and that was applauded among doctors who were trying to notify cases.
"They have started an online process.
"Previously, Victoria has had an online form process for pretty much all infectious disease, apart from things that needed to be identified urgently. Now they're allowing it for COVID."
Dr Gladman said a crisis like COVID-19 was "a good time to look around at what everybody else does and review your own systems".
"If we pick up a patient with any notifiable disease, not necessarily COVID, and they live in Victoria, we contact Melbourne. If they live in Albury, we contact the local public health service," he said.
"Even though they cover a big chunk of NSW, they [MLHD] have an understanding of the geography - they realise if somebody lives in Albury, they may well work in Wodonga or their kids might go to school in Wodonga.
"Melbourne doesn't always realise that."
A DHHS spokeswoman said "we're always working to strengthen structures and processes".
"Introducing an electronic form for medical practitioners is one of many improvements made to further support our 2600-strong public health team with outreach and contact tracing throughout the pandemic," she said.
"To help bolster contact tracing efforts over the last few months, we've established regional case contact and outbreak teams to provide rapid response and vital local knowledge in regional areas, and ensured in-person visits from DHHS officers to better support all of our new cases and close contacts."
The Border Mail revealed two weeks ago that a COVID-19 tracing team had been set up by Albury Wodonga Health to cover North East Victoria, rather than the process being managed in Melbourne.
"I haven't heard specifically about the local units being set up, I think it's a good move to start to move things out of Melbourne," Dr Gladman said.
"They had a huge number of cases in a short period of time, I don't envy their job at all."
Health commentator Norman Swan has called for Victoria to create area-based health units, telling the ABC at the end of July Victoria's health system "was not fit-for-purpose".
"Other states have a population-based approach where you have an area which the health service looks after, which encompasses several hospitals ... and has a public health unit on the ground. Victoria doesn't have that," he said.
"Victoria's got over 80 individual hospital networks - they're not even networks, they're individual hospitals.
"Victoria dodged the health reform process a few years ago, which really tried to get area health services into place - that's what happened in Queensland [and] NSW."
Dr Orr said the lack of regional-based pandemic responses by DHHS explained why Victoria's COVID-19 data was less comprehensive.
"I'm not an expert, but I understand that Queensland has much the same setup as NSW; I think Victoria's setup is unique and unfortunately, that's showing," she said.
"They have to work towards it [a restructure], because unfortunately what's been shown is in Victoria the only effective strategy they have is a stage four lockdown.
"It's the only thing that's effectively brought the numbers down, and you can't keep doing that, businesses are going broke, the mental health impacts are huge.
"What we have to be able to do is what Queensland and NSW have done - put out spot fires.
"The virus isn't going away, we're going to have to live with it, but we have to be able to find an outbreak, find a cluster, put that little fire out.
"Victoria's not capable of that because of the structure of the DHHS."
Only last Monday, the Victorian Health Minister Jenny Mikakos announced a new database on the DHHS website
"We want to continue to share more data," she said.
"From today, we are creating a new dashboard on the DHHS website that will make even more information available to Victorians for the first time.
"It will list high-risk locations for the first time. People will be able to see in their local area where there has been an exposure.
"That means people can be armed with that information."
However, the daily DHHS report still does not specify whether cases attributed to local government areas are people who are currently in those regional areas and present a risk.
This process has been criticised by Benambra MP Bill Tilley, and during the second COVID-19 wave cases have been listed and then removed within days in North East local government areas without explanation.
MLHD has often stated in its COVID-19 update when cases have been attributed to an LGA, but the person is not in the region due to being in hotel quarantine.
MLHD also provides data on recovered cases in each LGA.