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[6 min read] COVID-19 Update for GPs: Prof Michael Kidd, Deputy Chief Medical Officer

Important coronavirus (COVID-19) update for GPs from Professor Michael Kidd, Deputy Chief Medical Officer, Department of Health

By the end of this week, every state and territory will have begun taking careful steps to ease some of the restrictions that have helped us suppress the spread of this virus. While this will see a return to some of the freedoms we have had to forfeit over the past eight weeks, I want to emphasise our responsibility to protect each other from COVID-19.

This is no time for complacency. COVID-19 remains active in the community. Our new COVIDSafe ways of living and working, need to be underpinned by good hygiene and physical distancing – even when visiting friends and family in private homes. More than ever, it is important that people who experience any cold or flu-like symptoms, stay at home and call your practice to arrange a test. In recent weeks testing has increased, with almost a million tests carried out around the country, giving Australia one of the highest testing rates per head of population in the world. Please think about how you model these behaviours for your patients and practice team.

Vulnerable people are advised to continue to stay home, unless going to the shops or attending a medical appointment.
A reminder, vulnerable people include:

  • people over the age of 70 and older
  • people over 65 and older with chronic medical problem
  • Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people aged 50 and over with a chronic condition
  • people who are immunocompromised

All Australians are encouraged to download the COVIDSafe app to improve tracing and help keep more people safe. To date it has been downloaded by more than 5.7 million people.

The Government has announced an additional $48.1 million to help Australians whose mental health and wellbeing is being affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. The National Mental Health and Wellbeing Pandemic Response Plan to build on previous commitments to expand suicide prevention, preventative mental health services and telehealth support for mental health. The Plan will be the focus of next week’s Mental Health and GP webinars.

On Friday the National Cabinet also agreed to a framework to inform decisions around lifting remote area travel restrictions. It also agreed to reopen elective surgery, by removing restrictions and restoring hospital activity involving 3 stages, to be determined by each jurisdiction. More on that available here.

This week we recognised the vital work carried out by our nurses on International Nurses Day. On May 19 we mark the incredible contribution you all make to the community with World Family Doctor Day, with this year’s theme recognising that GPs are ‘first in, last out’ during health emergencies like this one.

Professor Michael Kidd AM
Deputy Chief Medical Officer & Principal Medical Advisor
Department of Health

1. GP-led respiratory clinics reach milestone

This week the 100th GP-led respiratory clinic opened in Mudgee, New South Wales, as part of the Australian Government’s $2.4 billion health response to the COVID-19 outbreak.

Since the first GP-led respiratory clinics opened in Macquarie Park and Morayfield on the 21st March, more than 100 clinics have opened around the country to assess and test patients with mild to moderate COVID-19-like symptoms, reducing pressure on hospital emergency departments and local general practices.

Throughout Australia there are now 466 clinics operating nationwide that include:

  • 106 GP-led respiratory clinics funded directly by the Commonwealth
  • 333 state fever clinics funded jointly by the Commonwealth and States
  • 29 ADF clinics funded by the Commonwealth.

The clinics supplement a range of measures, including additional practice incentives and the expansion of telehealth, to enable the medical workforce to continue to care for Australians through the pandemic. Included in the 106 operational clinics are eleven Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Service (ACCHS)-led clinics. A further five ACCHS-led clinics are expected to open soon.

The respiratory clinics have thorough infection prevention and control protocols to minimise the risk of transmission of COVID-19. They provide assessments and testing for all people with symptoms to detect cases and allow them to be isolated as early as possible.

Patients attending a GP-led respiratory clinic should make a booking via the online booking system on health.gov.au or by phoning their nearest clinic.

2. Updated guidance for GPs on distribution of PPE through PHNs

The Department of Health has issued updated guidance on the supply of masks from the National Medical Stockpile (NMS) for General Practice, community pharmacy and allied health through Primary Health Networks (PHNs). The aim of the guidance is to ensure consistent and transparent management of limited supply in the fourth tranche. It covers, for surgical masks and P2/N95 respirators:

  • their intended use
  • who is eligible to access their supply
  • how to request supply

Explore the PPE guidance here.

3. Visitor access code for aged care facilities

The Australian Government has welcomed the visitation code for residential aged care which prioritises access to loved ones while ensuring the protection of their health remains a priority.

The Aged Care Visitor Access Code, developed by the industry and consumer peak bodies sets out a nationally consistent, principles-based approach to maintaining residents’ visitation and communication.

The code, which adheres to advice from the Australian Health Protection Principal Committee, recommends:

  • Visits should be only as frequent as required to support a resident, for a short duration and limited to a maximum of two people;
  • A visit may occur in a resident’s room, designated internal areas, gardens or other designated areas;
  • Longer periods of visitation can be agreed to with the provider and may be given priority for family or friends of residents with dementia;
  • Where in-room or in-person visits cannot occur, a window visit may need to be offered; and
  • Any visitor to an aged care facility is now required to have had a flu vaccination.

Additionally, the code outlines routine screening measures for all staff and visitors on entry. It underlines the need for one point of entry only, a short verbal questionnaire for visitors on arrival and a no touch temperature test. Click here to download the code.

4. Flu vaccination update

As you know the flu season is expected to begin in Australia in the coming weeks so please urge patients who haven’t yet received their flu vaccine to do so as soon as possible. This is particularly important for your patients who are at increased risk of influenza.

Influenza vaccines are provided free through the National Immunisation Program to the following groups due to their increased risk of complications from influenza:

  • pregnant women (at any stage of pregnancy)
  • people aged 65 years and over
  • Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander people aged 6 months and over
  • people aged 6 months to less than 5 years
  • people aged 6 months & over with medical conditions putting them at increased risk of severe influenza & complications, including:
    • cardiac disease
    • chronic respiratory conditions
    • chronic neurological conditions
    • immunocompromising conditions
    • diabetes and other metabolic disorders
    • renal disease
    • haematological disorders
    • children aged 6 months to 10 years on long term aspirin therapy.

Here is a poster and brochure to encourage your patients to get vaccinated.

5. World Family Doctor Day

Australia’s health care system is experiencing unprecedented challenges with the national emergency resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic. Our nation’s general practitioners are playing an essential role in protecting the health of our community during the pandemic, especially our most vulnerable members.

We have swiftly changed our model of care to utilise telehealth for much of our work with our patients, combined with face to face consultations whenever necessary.

We have risen to the challenge of ensuring testing for our patients with symptoms or at risk of COVID-19, with many of us working in GP-led respiratory clinics across the country.

We have been proactive in reaching out to our most vulnerable patients, including those in residential aged care, providing essential comfort and continuity of care at a time when many people have been isolated at home.

We have continued to provide care for acute health problems, ongoing management of chronic conditions and mental health concerns, and essential preventive care measures, during very challenging times.

We have continued to be effective advocates to ensure our patients receive the health care services they need during these challenging times.

And we have provided direct care and support to our patients who have been diagnosed with COVID-19 and their family members. Thank you for all you have been doing, working with the members of your practice teams and with our other colleagues providing primary health care services and with our Primary Health Networks across Australia.

On World Family Doctor Day, May 19, we acknowledge the essential work you do every day, alongside our colleagues in countries all around the world, and the exceptional contributions you are making to the health and wellbeing of the people of our nation during the pandemic.

Original source: https://mailchi.mp/health.gov.au/covid-19-update-for-gps-from-the-chief-medical-officer-xxxxxx-4426060?e=83862cc2c1

See last week’s update from Professor Michael Kidd here.

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