Untold damage as ‘biblical’ floods hit general practice

Jolyon Attwooll

28/02/2022 6:07:14 PM

With parts of northern NSW and south-east Queensland experiencing extreme floods, the impact on GPs is likely to be profound and long-lasting.

Lismore flooded
Lismore has been inundated with rain over the past few days, leaving the main street looking more like a fast-flowing river.

‘A natural disaster of unprecedented proportions for this region’: such were the stark words of one state government minister on Monday as floods swept the northern rivers area of NSW and south-eastern Queensland.
General practices around the region have felt the impact of the extreme weather with many forced either to close their doors or operate with limited services.
While authorities hope river levels have peaked in south-east Queensland, in northern NSW heavy rains are continuing and the state Premier Dominic Perrottet has warned floods are likely to worsen.
There are thousands of GPs in areas hit by the natural disaster across both states, with an estimated 3500 in south-east Queensland alone.
One of the worst affected areas is around Lismore in the northern rivers area of NSW, a flood-prone area now facing its worst ever disaster.
Such is the height of the floodwaters in the town that some residents were forced to their rooftops to be rescued. At least 17 evacuation orders have been issued, while 21 evacuation warnings are in place and an estimated 62,000 people have been affected.
One Lismore GP, who did not wish to be named, said their practice has shut and GP colleagues are completely unable to work. Their main concern is for people needing access to emergency care at the hospitals.
On Monday afternoon, The Guardian reported that the car park at Lismore Base Hospital had been flooded and forced to close due to the deteriorating conditions.
Dr Joshua Kingston, who works as a GP in Alstonville, a short distance east of Lismore said he had been unable to get to work due to the floodwaters cutting off road access – and that the practice where he works had needed to limit the consultations to acute care only.
‘I’m most concerned about the immediate threat to people’s lives in in Lismore and the ongoing problems with what follows after the flood goes away,’ he told newsGP.
Dr Kingston said he remains concerned that conditions show no sign of improving for now.
‘We’ve had maybe nearly 300 millimetres since midnight,’ he said. ‘In addition to yesterday and the day before, the storm is still pouring. It’s not going to go away until it stops raining.’
The Chair of RACGP Specific Interests Disaster Management Professor Glynn Kelly is based in Brisbane and has also been directly impacted.
‘My practice is closed today,’ he told newsGP. ‘It’s physically okay, but the power’s off and all of the vaccines are obviously suspect. Many of our staff are flood-bound and they just can’t get in.’
Speaking to newsGP while looking out over the Brisbane River, Professor Kelly said while the rain had eased for the moment, conditions remain extreme.
‘We’ve seen houses floating down the river,’ he said. ‘There’s a boat going down the river without its motor, and it’s going faster than it would ever go with its motor.
‘The river just flowing so quickly. I’ve never seen it flow so quickly, even in the 2011 floods.’
Dr Cathryn Hester, who runs a practice with her husband in the Karana Downs area of western Brisbane, said rising river waters after what she describes as ‘biblical rains’ mean the area is now inaccessible.
‘We are completely cut off until Friday,’ she told newsGP. ‘[We] actually slept at the clinic last night.
‘We were worried that people might come to the clinic with emergency [needs] having nowhere else to go and helicopters not being able to get in. So we were hunkered down for the duration.’
Dr Hester said she has been working closely with the other emergency bodies including the SES on procuring pharmaceutical supplies and medical equipment.
‘We’ve all been working really closely together,’ she said. ‘It’s been great because we’ve been able to coordinate our messaging to the community and people know where to go to access help.’
Despite the unusual circumstances, Dr Hester said also her practice is still able to continue operating, thanks in part to changes prompted by the pandemic.
‘We have got two GPs doing telehealth consults today [Monday], so that’s been a really good change,’ she said.
‘This is something different from [the floods of] 2011 that we’re allowed to do telehealth, and that’s made a massive difference to our response.’

So far, newsGP has not been able to establish the exact number of general practices that have had to close to the extreme conditions either in Queensland or NSW.
RACGP Vice President and Queensland Chair Dr Bruce Willett said the extent of the damage is hard to assess as general practices focus on the most urgent problems.
‘It’s quite patchy, what we’re hearing from members at the moment,’ he told newsGP. ‘People are just trying to get over the immediacy of everything.’
He said affected GPs are likely to have a double impact of their own practice’s recovery, and a community under increased stress.
‘What tends to happen is that practices affected are suffering and trying to recover and to get back on their feet at the same time as dealing with patients who are dealing with suffering and trying to recover,’ he said. ‘And that’s quite difficult.’
Dr Willett said that the college will do whatever it can to support general practices that require assistance and encourages any practice to reach out to colleagues for help if needed, including for queries on insurance claims or re-building.
‘Unfortunately, a lot of the general practice community around the country have been through this either with floods or through the bushfires in the south,’ he said.
‘Don’t be afraid to reach out to colleagues. I think it’s certainly something that the college can help facilitate.’
He also said the need for assistance will probably be at its highest when media attention has turned elsewhere.
‘Particularly for the [general practices] that actually have been flooded, the real need for support is really going to be as the waters go down,’ he said.
‘We’ve seen this a few times now. It’s when the waters recede, and these stories out of the news that people are suffering the most.
‘The important thing is to be available to provide that support after the waters go down. That’s when people need it the most, after it’s out of the news.’
See RACGP resources for GPs: Providing care and support during disasters
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Dr Michael Charles Rice   8/03/2022 9:46:06 PM

Webinar: Wednesday 9 March 5.30pm Qld time 6.30pm NSW time

The stories of devastation and heartbreak from doctors has been overwhelming as they face the aftermath of the recent floods. This feeling of desperation is too familiar to Dr Michael Clements and Dr Bruce Chater. They have both faced the daunting task of rebuilding their medical practices after they were destroyed and vital equipment and records lost.

This webinar will provide practical advice on where to start in rebuilding your practice and ideas on where to get support.

Register for the webinar by emailing