News

GPs vital in ongoing response to Australia’s natural disasters: RACGP President


Paul Hayes


20/03/2018 11:57:27 AM

General practices in Victoria’s south-west, NSW’s south coast and Australia’s top end must be prepared to provide essential healthcare services following major natural disasters in recent days, RACGP President Dr Bastian Seidel has told newsGP.

Fires in Victoria’s south-west have damaged or destroyed close to 20 homes. Image: AAP
Fires in Victoria’s south-west have damaged or destroyed close to 20 homes. Image: AAP

‘As the central healthcare provider in communities throughout Australia, general practices and their staff members are ideally placed to provide vital services to people affected by these types of events,’ Dr Seidel told newsGP.
 
‘In addition to the effective continuity arrangements that allow GPs to best assist their regular patients, they are also able to provide an essential voice to ongoing healthcare planning processes.’
 
Darwin was struck by Tropical Cyclone Marcus over the weekend, with tens of thousands of local residents left without power and suitable drinking water; weekend bushfires damaged or destroyed close to 20 homes in Victoria, devastating buildings, property and livestock; and a bushfire in NSW destroyed close to 70 homes.
 
All of these events will likely have direct and continuing health effects.
 
‘Not only are the health effects of these incidents immediate and often devastating, but they are also ongoing, lasting well after all of the debris has been swept away and emergency services have left town,’ Dr Seidel said. ‘This means specialist GPs are vital in both the short-term and the long-term in the aftermath of a natural disaster.’
 
Bushfires can result in significant environmental and social health issues, and exacerbate existing health conditions. GPs in and around areas affected by bushfire may encounter an increase of people presenting with health issues resulting from:

  • radiant heat
  • dehydration and heat exhaustion
  • smoke inhalation
  • burns and other physical trauma
  • exacerbation of respiratory, cardiovascular and renal health conditions.
ERPT-text.jpgTropical Cyclone Marcus has increased the risk of melioidosis in and around Darwin, the NT Government has warned. Image: AAP

In the case of Tropical Cyclone Marcus, the Northern Territory Government has issued a warning regarding the potentially life-threatening soil-borne disease, melioidosis, an environmental bacterium said to be a common cause of pneumonia and blood poisoning in and around Darwin.
 
‘Melioidosis is seen most frequently after heavy rain, and many Territorians will now be in the garden cleaning up after the cyclone so it is particularly important to protect against it at this time,’ Acting Director of the Centre for Disease Control Dr Peter Markey said.
 
‘People most at risk are those with health concerns such as diabetes, hazardous alcohol intake, kidney disease, lung disease and cancer, as well as those on steroid therapy or other immunosuppressive treatment.’
 
According to the NT Government, immediate symptoms include fever, headaches, confusion and breathing difficulties, while slower-developing symptoms include weight loss, intermittent fevers, chest and abdominal pain, and sores or wounds that will not heal.
 
Emergency tool
The Emergency Response Planning Tool (ERPT) is a cloud-based online tool designed to assist general practices better prepare for, respond to and recover from the impacts of emergencies and pandemics.
 
Developed by Healthpoint ANZ in collaboration with the RACGP, the ERPT guides users as they enter critical practice information into a series of planning templates. The information is then used to create a practice-specific emergency response plan, which is saved and stored in the cloud and can be printed as a hard copy resource at any time.



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