Living with COVID-19
As vaccination rates rise, including in remote regions and ‘Covid Zero’ states; restrictions ease and borders open, and living with COVID-19 becomes a reality, the federal government must ensure general practice is well-supported to care for the community.
It is vital public health measures continue to be enforced when needed and are robust enough to ensure severe illness and hospitalisations are minimised, as opening allows more opportunities for COVID-19 to circulate.
General practice continues to play a significant role in the vaccination roll-out - delivering over half of all COVID-19 vaccinations - and is now central to the booster program. As the body of evidence regarding the impact of COVID-19 and vaccine efficacy grows GPs will need to continue to adapt to the changing environment.
The impact of COVID-19 on practices has been very mixed. While most have managed to maintain profitability, we know more than one quarter have seen their bottom lines deteriorate, (as reported in the CommBank GP Insights Report).
We have seen the direct impact of changing advice around vaccines; initial lack of clarity on indemnity; difficulties in sourcing PPE; balancing normal patient care and vaccinations, and managing the vaccination queries, concerns and demands of our patients. Despite the difficulties general practice has risen to the challenge. This phenomenal effort must continue to be recognised and supported.
With the booster program underway we see from experience overseas a strong take-up will be essential to avoid the reimposition of restrictions and an overloaded health system. We will need to be proactive, reaching out to patients, explaining the benefits, and getting needles into arms. Unfortunately, the Government seems to be relying on patients to simply come forward and is not properly funding general practice for the hard work we know is essential to a successful vaccination campaign. This will cost government a lot more eventually and the AMA is working hard to convince the Federal Government of the need to give GPs more support.
GPs must also be helped to invest further in digital health technology and up-skilled to enhance patient access to care and communications through digital technology. GPs will also need access to point-of-care rapid antigen testing, reliable access to PPE, and funding to support remote monitoring of infected patients.
While vaccinations and boosters will help stem the severity, COVID-19 infections will continue to occur. Innovative measures will be required to ensure hospital capacity for those worse affected by the virus and for those requiring usual care such as diagnostic procedures, surgery, cancer treatment, etc. Measures such as using the general practice health care team in monitoring and caring for COVID-19 patients out of hospital will be needed.
To add even more pressure on GPs, one in ten patients delayed or skipped a visit to the GP over the last 12 months due to the pandemic. Following up on these patients is going to be an important focus for general practice. Supporting patients’ mental health and the management of symptoms consistent with long COVID-19 will be another area of importance.