Ministers told ‘overwhelmed’ GPs need help

Matt Woodley

13/01/2022 4:59:54 PM

Pressure from two major vaccine rollouts, the surge in Omicron cases, and ongoing community care is threatening the short-term viability of general practice.

Stressed GP
The meeting was aimed at relieving pressure on GPs and ensuring patient access to primary care.

The unprecedented strain being placed on general practice was clearly articulated at a high-level meeting involving Federal Health Ministers and senior representatives of the five peak general practice organisations on Tuesday (12 January).
The meeting, which was also attended by senior representatives from the Department of Health, was aimed at improving coordination for COVID-19 care within the general practice and primary care sector to ensure strong access for patients.
Concerns from the sector were relayed directly to Federal Minister for Health and Ageing Greg Hunt and Rural Health Minister David Gillespie by representatives from the RACGP, AMA, ACRRM, NACCHO and the Rural Doctors Association of Australia.
RACGP President Dr Karen Price told newsGP the meeting was ‘broadly positive’ and that the college is ‘fighting hard’ to ensure members have the resources they need to stay safe and practising.
‘The ministers listened intently to the doctors and presidents of all the peak medical organisations [in attendance] who told them how overwhelmed general practice is and how much support we need – especially given what’s happened with Omicron,’ she said.
‘We’ve had lots of feedback from members. Universally everyone is in a heightened state of personal distress because this is an incredible event that we’re living through, and there are incredible demands being placed upon them.
‘There’s also a lot of anger. We hear them and we are advocating very strongly for them to be more supported, because these are people who’ve committed themselves to their communities, and the communities are relying on them to be there.’
With the Omicron surge having a massive impact on staff availability and causing businesses to close across Australia, a major focus of the meeting was ensuring practices have enough support to keep their doors open to patients in need.
‘As I mentioned to the ministers yesterday, we see 90% of the population every year, many of them more than once, so we need to be there and we need to be functioning,’ Dr Price said.
‘In particular, we need to be able to have extra staff to manage some of the administrative burdens that come with two major vaccination rollouts, which are critical to controlling this wave, in addition to managing COVID-positive patients and business as usual.
‘We need to be there for our communities and we need the Government to provide more support in order to do our job.’
Following the meeting, a spokesperson for Minister Hunt told newsGP ‘significant work’ had been undertaken to support health services for the expected increase in COVID-19 cases and to ensure patients receive care if they require it.
‘The Minister has met regularly with all GP Peaks and ACCHS [Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Services] throughout the pandemic to ensure that policy settings remain appropriate.  Today’s meeting was part of this ongoing constructive engagement,’ the spokesperson said.
‘Over the course of the pandemic we have been working with peak organisations to co-design support for the primary care sector, including telehealth, establishment of GP respiratory clinics, centralised support hotlines, additional COVID payments, updated clinical guidance, access to personal protective equipment and pulse oximeters, and many digital supports.
‘We are also actively working with state governments, hospitals, GPs and PHNs on appropriate community care and escalation pathways in each jurisdiction to ensure Australians are cared for if they become COVID positive.’
Specific requests made at the meeting included:

  • the expansion of telehealth services to a scope similar to earlier in the pandemic to improve access to healthcare for Australians during the current, and possibly future, waves.
  • an adequate supply of appropriate PPE to general practices
  • the urgent need for rapid antigen tests to general practices to enable them to provide a safe environment for both staff and patients
  • prioritisation and urgent distribution of rapid antigen tests into rural and remote areas to secure patient and practitioner access in areas with no access to state-run hubs currently tasked with distributing the tests
  • support and resources for general practices to coordinate the care of COVID-positive patients in the community
  • a public health communication strategy on self-care pathways to alleviate the load on hospitals, GPs and their staff.
The Department of Health has agreed to meet again in two weeks.
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Dr Nicholas John Brodie Page   14/01/2022 7:08:00 AM

´The Department of Health has agreed to meet again in two weeks.´ !
This is urgent !
We need action NOW on all the points raised.

Dr Rimas Vincent Liubinas   14/01/2022 8:02:02 AM

A doubling of pip would be a good start. It would assist the administration burden increase in all practices and demonstrate that the government is actually serious about helping general practice. It seems that we get one talk test after another with minimal and ad hoc delivery of support.

A.Prof Christopher David Hogan   14/01/2022 10:49:07 AM

We are under more pressure now than at any other time in the pandemic.
Efforts to educate patients so that they have reasonable expectations of us would also help