RACGP urges support for GPs at bushfire frontline
The Royal Australian College of General Practitioners (RACGP) has urged the federal government to make reforms to help GPs care for affected communities at the frontline of the bushfire crisis.
“We are calling on the government to prioritise requests for GPs to be allocated emergency provider numbers to work as locums in impacted areas,” said RACGP President Dr Harry Nespolon.
“This will ensure a coordinated process so that we have GPs in areas where they are needed most.
“We want GPs to be heavily involved in emergency planning and response at state and federal levels and we would welcome further discussion with the Department of Health on actions we can collectively take to ensure practices in affected communities can relocate or quickly access the additional medical and allied health workforce needed.
“Right now emergency planning is the preserve of state and territory governments and general practice is covered at the federal level. So the RACGP will work with state emergency management structures to bridge this gap and bring GPs into the fold.
“Finally, we want financial support for GPs providing patient services to communities affected by bushfire, including through the Medicare Benefits Schedule.”
Dr Colin Gallagher — a postdoctoral researcher at the Centre for Transformative Innovation at Swinburne University of Technology — highlighted the impact of bushfires on communities.
“Bushfires affect people and communities alike, with many mental, physical and social consequences over the following days, months and years.
“Three years after the 2009 Black Saturday bushfires, a quarter of respondents still reported clinically significant levels of mental health issues, made worse by a range of stressful life experiences (eg, rebuilding, economic hardship, relationship difficulties).
“Looking ahead, an important recovery factor will be social cohesion within affected communities. Support should go to getting local groups and activities back up and running early, particularly those that are the only form of local activity for their members.”
RACGP support for GPs
In addition to lobbying government, Dr Nespolon said that the RACGP was also taking decisive action to support GPs.
“I am fully aware of the incredible work being done by GPs in affected areas and the RACGP is working to support them so they continue their vital care and support.
“The RACGP is working with local disaster management structures to determine what support and medical supplies are needed in affected areas.
“We are coordinating our efforts with local primary health networks, the state and federal governments, the Australian Medical Association, the Australian College of Rural and Remote Medicine and other key stakeholders to ensure there is no unnecessary duplication.
“The RACGP is also in contact with the Rural Workforce Agency networks to support GPs who are keen to provide locum services in areas impacted by bushfires, and we’ll encourage our members to contact the New South Wales Rural Doctors Network and the Rural Workforce Agency Victoria to get registered.
“We are also looking to potentially fast-track the finalisation of the Completion of Training document for those who are otherwise eligible for Fellowship and who want to volunteer as locums. This normally takes six to eight weeks and will be expedited to a week for GPs who have completed their fellowship training.”
The RACGP President said he was mindful of how the bushfire crisis will affect GPs completing training and examinations.
“The bushfires may mean that some registrars simply cannot complete the number of hours required for their training or may be concerned about their readiness to sit their forthcoming exams.
“We completely understand the predicament they face and will work with regional training organisations and the government to ensure impacted registrars are given special consideration.
“We will also take great care to determine whether any bushfires will have an impact on the locations for upcoming exams. The health of our members is our first priority, so we’re seeking to employ as much flexibility as possible with exam locations and dates.”
Dr Nespolon said he also recognised that some GPs in affected areas may need support for personal health issues, including mental health as well as financial support and aid.
“We can’t overlook the health and wellbeing of GPs helping people in times of crisis, and we want all GPs to know that we are here to assist in any way we can.”
The RACGP has provided a list of resources to support GPs on its website www.racgp.org.au, including expected responses to bushfires, patients at greatest risk and major psychiatric syndromes following a trauma or disaster.
The RACGP President said that the deadly bushfires were a sign of things to come in a world affected by climate change.
“There is no point sticking our heads in the sand and pretending otherwise — climate change is severely affecting the conditions in which devastating bushfires occur.
“The RACGP recognises climate change as a public health emergency and we will continue to advocate for policies that protect human health from the risks of climate change at all levels of government.”
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