GPs mainstay of health system in pandemic and beyond

Recent public commentary that GPs are driving people into an already crowded hospital system fails to appropriately acknowledge the dedicated GPs and their practice teams who have cared for Western Australians throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.

GPs play a crucial role in the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic as the first point of contact for possibly infected patients and are responsible for short and long-term follow-up care of most people with COVID-19. The majority of general practices across WA have remained open and fully operational for both face to face and telehealth appointments from the beginning of the pandemic. They have innovated and adapted to new ways of protecting and caring for their patients.

Throughout the pandemic, the primary objective of general practice has been to protect vulnerable patients from contracting COVID-19 and to support their patients with COVID-19 through their symptom management. GPs and their teams have done this in the face of challenges to supply of vaccines and personal protective equipment, furloughing of their staff who contract COVID-19 and rapidly emerging and changing patient care pathways.

GPs, including those working in the ‘after-hours’ periods and in nursing homes, were called to manage a growing number of health situations whilst rapidly reorganising their services and altering how they provided care. Every general practice in WA has made careful and considered decisions about how they will manage their practice and their patients at different points in time during the pandemic. Practices have been innovative in managing their patients by rapidly transitioning to telehealth appointments where appropriate and necessary, utilising their car parks for high volume immunisation clinics and leading GP Respiratory Clinics dedicated to caring for people with COVID-19 symptoms.

WA Primary Health Alliance speaks to GPs and their practice teams every day, providing support as they navigate the complexities of COVID-19, and advocating on their behalf to Commonwealth and State health agencies. We know first-hand that these health professionals are the mainstay of WA’s health system – and that without them, the health system would collapse. General practices have committed time, clinical expertise and resources to contributing to the State’s COVID-19 response, much of which is not remunerated or acknowledged.

General practice teams deserve the gratitude of all Western Australians for their efforts in minimising the impact of COVID-19, particularly on those most vulnerable in our community – the elderly, people with complex chronic conditions and Aboriginal Western Australians. GPs, practice nurses, practice managers, receptionists and allied health professionals are all doing their absolute best to keep people out of hospital emergency departments. Without the preventive care, early intervention and sub-acute care that is the mainstay of general practice, WA would be seeing far greater numbers of people presenting to emergency departments.

Many of us have a trusted relationship with our GP. They are already preparing for the associated longer-term impacts of COVID-19. These include mental health and alcohol and drug related issues, patient neglect of important preventive care such as cancer screening, chronic disease management and immunisations during the pandemic and the emerging symptoms of Long COVID. Millions of Western Australians will rely on their GPs to provide this ongoing care as we navigate the next phases of the pandemic.

WA Primary Health Alliance urges the Western Australian Government, the WA Department of Health and the community to stand beside GPs and their practice team members. We should collectively support and commend the work they do, and will continue to do, in safeguarding the health of the WA community.

Learne Durrington
Chief Executive Officer