Working to support GPs through COVID in WA | AMA (WA)

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Working to support GPs through COVID in WA

Monday May 30, 2022

Dr Simon Torvaldsen, Chair, AMA (WA) General Practice Group

I think most of us have struggled to varying degrees to keep our practices going and care for our patients as COVID-19 finally hit WA. The AMA has been working hard both directly and behind the scenes to support GPs through these difficult times.

In doing so, we have liaised closely with the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners (RACGP) and the WA Primary Health Alliance (WAPHA).

 

The GP groups have worked productively and effectively together, aiming to best utilise the strength of each organisation.

As the Omicron variant hit Australia, it was clearly extremely infectious, and it became increasingly likely that WA could not remain isolated from it. Well aware of the shortages of quality PPE and RAT kits, the AMA (WA), through its excellent Medical Products division, acted immediately. Strenuous and successful efforts were made to source quality, affordable RATs and N95 masks, with members getting priority and discounted pricing.

In parallel with this, we set up a WhatsApp group to share information. We decided to make this available to all GPs, not just AMA members, as we wanted all GPs to have access to the information and be able to share concerns.

In a rapidly evolving situation, it enabled us to publicise – in real time – the availability of the equipment we had sourced for General Practice as well as address many other concerns. The WhatsApp group has proven very popular and effective; you can sign up at facebook.com/AustralianMedicalAssociationWA/groups

At the same time, it became clear that the systems set up by the WA Department of Health (DoH) to manage COVID in the community had some serious flaws, especially in regard to accessing antiviral drugs via the national stockpile.

The suggested mechanism “ring our ID physician” was obviously going to be overwhelmed, as cases increased. Moreover, the first outbreak in a residential aged care facility, at Juniper Cygnet, exposed many faults and failures by the DoH. They were saved by a very experienced, dedicated GP, and the fact that he had managed to ensure all residents were fully vaccinated.

The AMA (WA) provided a lot of support at the time and along with the RACGP, demanded that the DoH meet and develop a better system. The DoH acknowledged that they needed to work with us to make improvements, and along with the RACGP and WAPHA, I have had weekly meetings with Dr Robyn Lawrence and her team, plus Vaccine Commander Gary Dreisbergs.

I made it crystal clear at these meetings that while GPs are here to help, we cannot work with a system that demands the impossible, or requires 1–2 hours to deal with each case requiring treatment. Our initial demand for a dedicated GP COVID phone line was denied as being impossible for the DoH to implement.

Over a series of sometimes difficult meetings, we have worked to improve the system for GPs and their patients. By the time you read this, routine applications for antivirals will be accessible online without phone calls, and you should have access to all the relevant forms and over a series of sometimes difficult meetings, we have worked to improve the system for GPs and their patients.

By the time you read this, routine applications for antivirals will be accessible online without phone calls, and you should have access to all the relevant forms and supporting documentation in one place via Health Pathways.

We were told the documents could not be provided as templates or open source, as they are being constantly updated and the DoH has concerns about fraudulent “applications” by non-doctors trying to illegally access antivirals.

The unworkable requirement for written consent and two signatures has been removed. We also rewrote the unworkable hospital-based close contact and furloughing guidelines to produce something suitable for GPs.

We have emphasised the need to contact ID physicians when clinically needed, and have been assured that an expedited pathway will be available through the local tertiary hospital switchboard. There are multiple and changing phone lines for the ID specialists, so this is the simplest way.

They are also struggling under the workload but have promised to return calls if they cannot answer immediately. The eventual solution will be listing Paxlovid on the PBS, hopefully not too far away. It has been extremely frustrating to spend so many hours dealing with these issues and what is a stop-gap solution, but I hope the details illustrate that your difficulties were heard and how much work has gone on behind the scenes to try to improve things for you.

There is more to be done and I want to then focus on the big issues for General Practice with the incoming Federal Government. General Practice urgently needs serious investment, and the AMA is fighting for this.