Government to help GPs reach the frontline

Matt Woodley

9/01/2020 3:47:58 PM

New emergency protocols will make it easier for GPs to work in bushfire-affected communities.

Man surveying a massive bushfire on the horizon.
The emergency protocols should make it easier for GPs to reach areas they are most needed. (Image: AAP)

The Federal Government will prioritise all applications from doctors who want to work in medical practices in affected communities in an effort to place GPs where they are most needed, Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt has announced.
Under the emergency protocols, Fellows are able to work at a new practice for up to two weeks using their existing Medicare provider number. They must generate a provider number for their new location after two weeks, a process that is immediate when using the Health Professionals Online Service.
Restricted doctors, such as those who trained overseas, are eligible for six-month 19AB exemptions to support bushfire-affected communities, while they can also apply for 3GA placements through their Rural Workforce Agency.
Restricted doctors will need to submit a paper-based application form for a new Medicare provider number. To ensure it is prioritised, GPs should include a short covering letter detailing that it is for a bushfire-affected area.
‘Already we have seen GPs and allied health workers doing a tremendous job supporting these communities,’ Minister Hunt said.
‘We thank them for their continued efforts under extremely difficult circumstances.’
Dr Glynn Kelly, Chair of the RACGP Specific Interests Disaster Management network, told newsGP the Government’s announcement is a positive step that should help solve the major issue of placing GPs where they are most needed.
But he also said these protocols, only agreed to in December, should have been done ‘years ago’.
‘[Disaster planning] should be proactive. This sort of work needs to be done in advance … and it needs to be integrated,’ he said.
‘Each state emergency centre should have a GP in it who can be the conduit between primary care and emergency responders.
‘It is tragic that doctors have been refused permission to help because they are not part of the plan.  It underlines that these plans and relationships should have been developed a long time ago – we have had enough disasters to have indicated such a need.’
Dr Kelly, who helped coordinate the response to the 2003 Canberra bushfires, also said any formalised disaster response plan needs to be reviewed and updated annually.
‘There has to be a debrief of all the organisations, and they’ve got to be debriefing together,’ he said. ‘Out of that you learn what went well, what didn’t go well – and if it didn’t go well, how we can do better,’ he said.
‘There’s an old saying, “There are no new lessons to be learned in disasters, only old lessons that have been forgotten”.
‘As an example of how important debriefs are to develop further plans, even though in Canberra I had an integrated plan, there were a lot of eye injuries and we needed to get some normal saline out to evacuation centres but I couldn’t get any.
‘At the debrief, I was complaining to a St John Ambulance colleague about not being able to access any and they said, “Glynn, we had 1000 bags of it and we didn’t know who to give it to”.
‘So this is where relationships get formed and where they get built on. But, very importantly, the relationships should not be person-specific, but rather position-specific.
‘Hopefully these tragic bushfires lead to national and local GP planning, integration, and exercising of effective disaster plans … that can be activated quickly, involve all the other organisations, are simple, and work.’
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A.Prof Christopher David Hogan   10/01/2020 5:52:58 PM

It is gratifying that the massive groundswell from affected GPs & the significant number of stories from affected GPs has been heard by the community & acted upon.
I encourage my colleagues to keep the stories of their experiences & insights coming