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RACGP recognises the ‘unheralded heroes’ of COVID-19


Matt Woodley


10/07/2020 4:50:35 PM

The college is encouraging Australians to thank general practice staff for their work throughout the pandemic.

Receptionist at general practice clinic.
General practice staff such as receptionists have sometimes had to work under extremely difficult conditions during the pandemic.

‘To all of our nurses, receptionists and administrative staff my message is simple – thank you.’
 
That is RACGP President Dr Harry Nespolon, who has released a passionate plea to all Australians, asking them to recognise the efforts of general practice staff working on the coronavirus frontline.
 
The pandemic has posed many challenges for general practice team members, including reports of nurses being verbally abused, threatened and even insulted in public as ‘disease spreaders’.
 
As such, Dr Nespolon has said it is vital to recognise the often overlooked work of staff who have risked their safety ensuring everyday Australians can still access high quality primary care when they need it.
 
‘This pandemic has been a very challenging time for general practice and the RACGP recognises that the staff working alongside GPs rarely get the attention or praise they deserve,’ he said.
 
‘The focus more often falls on GPs and they are of course doing a great job. However, we don’t sufficiently acknowledge the courage, perseverance and deft touch exhibited by general practice staff across Australia – they are the unheralded heroes of the COVID-19 pandemic.’
 
Dr Nespolon pointed out that aside from preparing practices to handle potential COVID-19 cases, practice staff have also had to quickly adapt to other changes, such as the widespread introduction of telehealth.
 
‘Thank you for navigating complex changes to primary care operations including expanded telehealth services. Thank you for implementing COVID-19 safety protocols such as designating where patients can sit and markers on the floor to help patients exercise social distancing,’ he said.
 
‘Thank you for answering the questions some patients have about consulting a GP during this pandemic. Your work has not gone unnoticed by the healthcare community and general public.’
 
Leichhardt General Practice manager Penny Mills said it is the front office staff who often managed some of the more challenging aspects of treating patients during the pandemic.
 
‘This pandemic has understandably caused much anxiety for patients. Most of our patients have acted fairly; however, unfortunately some have behaved unreasonably and were extremely offensive to our reception staff,’ she said.
 
‘Some staff have had to deal with uncooperative and rude patients when they are simply trying to help them abide by the recommended guidelines and keep everyone safe.’
 
Ms Mills said her practice was forced to alter the way front desk reception staff managed appointments, with strict triaging protocols being put in place that also came with their own set of challenges.
 
‘Those patients booked for face-to-face consultations were triaged again prior to entry to the practice. Reception had to deal with patients who expressed frustration with this new protocol,’ she said.
 
‘Another major cause of impatience and unreasonable rudeness from some patients was the shortage and unpredictable delivery of this year’s flu vaccinations.
 
‘Our receptionists patiently and politely dealt with these concerns whilst continuing to handle their many other essential tasks at the same time.
 
‘I was constantly amazed at how under such extraordinary stressful times for everyone the front desk team remained calm and professional.’
 
According to Dr Nespolon, more should be done to support general practice staff during and after the pandemic.
 
‘At times the information communicated from different levels of government and exactly what rules and responsibilities are in place has caused confusion and concern for healthcare professionals and patients,’ he said.
 
‘People suffering from information overload have been unsure whether they can see their GP, how to use telehealth and telephone services, or what is required of them when they do visit a general practice.
 
‘Even just the question of who should be tested for the COVID-19 virus has changed repeatedly and some patients have unreasonably been asked to obtain clearance certificates from their GP stating that they do not have the virus.’
 
He also said shortages of personal protective equipment (PPE) and flu vaccines had proved ‘very stressful’ for general practice staff tasked with sourcing sufficient stock.  
 
‘That is why in our submission to the Senate inquiry into the government response to the pandemic we emphasised the importance of coordinating the urgent supply of PPE to practices facing shortages and prioritising adequate supply of influenza vaccinations to general practice,’ he said.
 
‘Let’s also ensure that during this pandemic and in years to come we never take for granted the hard work of general practice staff including nurses, receptionists and administrative staff.
 
‘They do not always get the plaudits they deserve, so once again on behalf of the RACGP and entire community I say thank you and keep up the great work.’
 
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