From bushfires to pandemics, emergency response support at the ready

WA Primary Health Alliance has taken proactive steps to ensure it is prepared to provide expert support for any future emergency that faces the Western Australian primary health care sector and our community.

In early 2020 the organisation created a disaster preparedness team, led by a project manager, in response to the unprecedented 2019-20 Australian bushfire season, which burnt 18.6 million hectares, destroyed more than 2,700 homes and tragically killed more than 30 people.

Primary Health Networks (PHNs) across the country were required to respond to the health and mental health needs both during the emergency, and in its aftermath, particularly those PHNs based in New South Wales and Victoria.

However, when Glen Knight was appointed to manage the new team earlier this year, he found the scope of the role changed significantly with the emergence of COVID-19.

WA Primary Health Alliance had to quickly responded to assist a growing number of Western Australian GPs and pharmacists receive appropriate PPE and keep themselves informed with critical and fast moving information flows.

Mr Knight said while Primary Health Networks are not frontline service delivery organisations, they do interact with many stakeholders who need that kind of support.

“Our goal is to build resilience in our business and provide tools and resources that enable us to deal with things like COVID-19 and state shutdowns, but also bushfires and cyclones,” he said.

“We also want to be able to provide stakeholders with tools, resources and expert advice.

“My vision is that what we’re building is an all hazards approach that considers a pandemic as part of it.”

Mr Knight said it was important for him to engage with staff on the ground across the state and ensure that WA Primary Health Alliance staff and their stakeholders were prepared for disasters specific to their region.

“If we take Karratha for example, if a cyclone rips through that town it may be that the primary health stakeholders need some assistance in both being resilient in a business continuity sense and also a preparedness sense,” he said.

WA Primary Health Alliance has played and continues to play a key role in the state’s COVID response, including currently being involved in the roll out of the COVID-19 vaccination program.