Government responds to RACGP calls, expedites emergency provider numbers

Anastasia Tsirtsakis

17/03/2022 3:46:10 PM

The move will ensure GPs can continue to practise and provide care for people in disaster-affected areas.

The aftermath of the floods in NSW.
GPs in flood affected areas are playing a vital role in helping their communities, Dr Karen Price acknowledged. (Image: AAP)

GPs practising in areas hit by the devastating floods in New South Wales and Queensland will now be able to continue practicing and offering care to their patients.
Following talks between the RACGP and the Department of Health (DoH), Services Australia has confirmed that it is expediting emergency provider numbers.  
To be eligible, GPs must be an unrestricted provider (not working under a 3GA training placement and/or 19AB exemption) and be located in a flood-affected area where they:

  • cannot get access to their practice or it has been destroyed
  • are now required to practice at a temporary location, such as an evacuation centre.
Services Australia has said the policy change seeks to ensure ‘continued care is provided for patients in disaster-affected areas’.
GPs can apply for a new provider location up until 31 March, and must:
  • complete, sign and email the application form to
  • call 132 150 and advise that they are in a flood-impacted area and require their application to be processed as a priority.
Services Australia has advised that a service officer will then locate the application and arrange for its urgent assessment, and follow up with the applicant to advise of the outcome and provider number.
‘If the medical practitioner does not have access to the facilities required to submit an application, relevant details will be recorded and another Services Australia officer will call the medical practitioner back to discuss the options available to them,’ the government agency said in correspondence reviewed by newsGP.
It usually takes up to a month to obtain a provider number and RACGP President Dr Karen Price welcomed the Federal Government’s response to an RACGP request to fast-track the process.
‘During disasters GPs need to apply for emergency numbers as they may need to work in evacuation centres,’ she said.
‘This includes the work of locums, which are self-employed GPs who can cover where there are temporary shortfalls in general practice care, including areas impacted by these floods.
‘Without this emergency provider number, GPs [wouldn’t] be able to claim from Medicare.’
In addition to expediting emergency provider numbers, the DoH has also agreed to provide an exemption from the existing relationship requirement for patients seeking MBS-subsidised telehealth services.
Thousands of GPs, who live and work in flood-affected areas, have been impacted by the recent crisis.
As well as ensuring their immediate needs are supported, the RACGP has reportedly engaged in ongoing discussions with the DoH to propose changes to support future GP involvement in local disaster responses.
Chair of RACGP Specific Interests Disaster Management, Dr Glynn Kelly said that GPs should be involved in preparing for disasters, both human-made and natural, for a more coordinated response.
‘At the moment, general practice helps out by saying, “Hey, there’s a need in Lismore, so let’s try to do something for Lismore”,’ Dr Kelly said.
‘But in reality, what would be better is … [if] there was a plan for Lismore where general practice was involved in the development and delivery of that plan, and that the plan was then activated to ensure a maximally effective response.’
The Brisbane-based GP, who has also been directly impacted by the floods, says it is vital to remember that natural disasters can occur at any time.
‘This means that we should be better prepared at a system level,’ he said.
‘General practice has been saying for some time that we should be represented on a roundtable basis at federal level, state and territory level and council levels.
‘This also means being involved in planning, preparation and exercising before disasters strike and … in debriefings afterwards as to what worked well and what didn’t work well, and what can be done to improve disaster responses.
‘In every disaster in Australia that I’ve been aware of, GPs and general practice teams have always stood up where they’re needed.
‘My mantra is – if there’s no preparation and planning, it can’t be as effective as could otherwise be the case, and it won’t be as safe as it could be otherwise.’
In a personal message sent to NSW and Queensland Faculty members earlier this week, Dr Price praised the efforts of GPs on the ground, acknowledging that the crisis comes as doctors have been on the frontline of the pandemic response for over two years.
‘Once again GPs have rolled up their sleeves to help and support their communities,’ Dr Price wrote.
‘We all know GPs have a vital role to play in helping communities in times of crisis, but I am particularly heartened by the kindness and dedication shown by my colleagues at this time.’
Dr Price also recognised that GPs providing support are themselves members of their communities, many of whom have been directly impacted themselves.  
‘I want to personally thank you for your hard work and commitment,’ she wrote.
‘We will continue our strong advocacy for the profession during this challenging time for many of our GPs.’
Financial assistance
There are a number of financial supports that practices directly impacted by the floods may be eligible to receive, including grants of up to $50,000 for small businesses under a joint initiative by the federal and state governments.
To access financial support, practices in NSW can call 13 77 88, while Queensland-based GPs should contact 1800 623 946.
Links to other charitable funds are also available on the RACGP website.
Mental health supports
Whether directly impacted by the floods or not, the RACGP has acknowledged that this is a particularly distressing time for the wider Australian community and encourages GPs to care for their own health.
For anyone in need, the following services are available: RACGP resources
The college has a suite of resources available for GPs related to planning for, managing and responding to disasters, including information on providing care and support for the community and themselves.
GPs who have any questions or concerns are encouraged to contact their local faculty or the RACGP’s Member Services Centre on 1800 472 247 or via
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Dr Suresh Gareth Khirwadkar   18/03/2022 6:58:18 AM

What about those with restricted numbers? Eg moratorium. We are meant to just suck it up and not work for however long? Thankfully I’m not affected but I could have easily been and I’d be unable to work at all if my practice had flooded as I couldn’t get another number as the whole of Brisbane is not dpa. I’d be expected to just be happy to go bankrupt?

Dr Duncan MacWalter   18/03/2022 7:38:07 AM

This could already be done online instantly via PRODA for unrestricted GPs, so hardly any effort on the government's part.
A meaningful input would be to also fast-track the restricted doctors - the IMGs who if the area is now DPA since they started, cannot get an emergency provider number to continue working.

Prof Max Kamien, AM. CitWA   18/03/2022 8:43:26 AM

Good stuff. We always need a seat around the planning table. Ensures better planning and insures against being done and/or forgotten by those who have an inflated view of what they can and do provide.