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Government told GPs still need COVID-19 support


Matt Woodley


9/06/2020 4:37:25 PM

The RACGP has told the Senate Select Committee GPs must receive further assistance and be allowed to provide more input during pandemics.

GP on the phone
The RACGP has called for major changes to pandemic planning in Australia, which would see greater general practice involvement in response preparation and coordination.

The college’s call for support points to an urgent need for the Government to coordinate supplies of personal protective equipment (PPE) to GPs still facing shortages, along with adequate numbers of influenza vaccinations.
 
Other short-term recommendations found in the college submission include an investment in raising public awareness of the importance of not delaying medical care, as well as a government campaign to educate Australians about the importance of vaccinations.
 
In the longer term, the RACGP would like to see a permanent general practice representative sit on the Australian Health Protection Principal Committee (AHPPC), and for GPs to be able to access the Government’s pandemic modelling and local surveillance data.
 
RACGP President Dr Harry Nespolon said while the response to the COVID-19 pandemic has yielded positive results, the lack of access to resources needed to keep staff and patients safe has generated a lot of anxiety during the pandemic.
 
‘A shortage of personal protective equipment such as gloves and masks has been a major concern for many GPs,’ he said.
 
‘This is completely unacceptable and Government needs to urgently supply personal protective equipment to general practices experiencing shortages. In future, we need superior distribution channels responsive to local requirements.
 
‘Similarly, we urged Australians to get their influenza vaccinations earlier than usual this year as we didn’t want hospitalisations for the flu coinciding with people requiring hospital care for COVID-19.
 
‘However, some GPs have been dismayed to find that they just haven’t received enough stock and this has frustrated patients turning up to their local practice to get their jab. An adequate supply of flu vaccinations must be prioritised for general practice right away.’
 
Dr Nespolon also said that general practice’s unique position within the Australian healthcare system had contributed to it being overlooked during the Government’s pandemic planning.
 
‘Because state and territory governments manage the health crisis response and the Federal Government has primary responsibility for general practice, GPs have not been properly embedded into the wider pandemic response. This is not new, we have been drawing attention to this problem for years,’ he said.
 
‘However, the pandemic exposed the full scope of these shortcomings and we believe the role of GPs as frontline health providers must be formally recognised in pandemic preparation, mitigation, response and recovery.
 
‘GPs know their communities and will be there for patients during and after this pandemic so we should be front and centre.’
 
According to Dr Nespolon, the pandemic exposed challenges associated with different levels of government and agencies having different roles and responsibilities, which also contributed to inconsistent and confusing messaging and advice that has been a source of significant concern.
 
‘GPs have expressed frustrations about different information on testing criteria and use of personal protective equipment across the country, as well as inconsistent advice from politicians and a lack of cohesion between different jurisdictions,’ he said.
 
‘Having an RACGP representative on the Australian Health Protection Principal Committee would make a significant difference. GPs should also be provided with information such as Government modelling and local epidemiological data.’
 
Dr Nespolon added it is vital the Government takes the unique opportunity provided by COVID-19 to make overdue improvements to primary care.
 
‘In early March temporary Medicare Benefits Schedule items were introduced to support telephone and video consultations in general practice. More than 99% of general practice clinics have taken up these options which have enabled GPs to continue providing essential care while minimising the risk of COVID-19 infection,’ he said.
 
‘Our intention is to work constructively with the Federal Government so that access to Medicare-funded telephone and video consultation services is available beyond 30 September this year for all Australians. When it comes to service delivery it sometimes appears as if general practice is stuck in the 1970’s and this must change.
 
‘The primary healthcare response to this pandemic is far from over and GPs will continue working as hard as we can to keep patients safe. We hope the lessons from the COVID-19 response highlight the high quality of care general practice is well-equipped to provide during emergencies and in the aftermath.’
 
Urgent and short-term recommendations

  • Coordinate the urgent supply of PPE to GPs facing shortages Invest in raising public awareness of the importance of not delaying medical care
  • Prioritise adequate supply of influenza vaccinations to GPs
  • Government campaign to educate Australians about the importance of vaccinations
Medium to long-term recommendations
 
  • Formal and permanent GP representation on the AHPPC
  • Establish a national coordinated body to prevent inconsistent public messaging
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