Managing emergencies and pandemics in general practice
The Royal Australian College of General Practitioners (RACGP) has developed Managing emergencies and pandemics in general practice: A guide for preparation, response and recovery with support from the Department of Health and Ageing.
The aim of the guide is to assist general practices to better prepare for, respond to and recover from the impact of emergencies and pandemics. The guide has been designed to be an educational resource for general practice staff during emergency preparations and response efforts.
While this guide has been specifically developed for the general practice setting, it is recognised that other primary care settings might find it useful during their emergency preparations and we encourage them to use it.
General practice is the linchpin of Australia’s health service infrastructure. GPs and practice teams are at the forefront of medical care, providing Australians with access to quality healthcare on a daily basis. It is estimated that GPs see approximately 88% of Australia’s population each year. In an emergency, it is generally expected that the demand for healthcare services will rise, especially in the event of a pandemic. During previous emergency responses, GPs and practice teams have consistently worked to provide individuals with the best care possible. They have demonstrated their commitment to the communities they serve during emergencies and pandemics by ensuring that individuals requiring urgent medical attention were seen and that people residing in disaster-affected areas could continue to receive ongoing care.
This commitment reinforces the ongoing critical role that GPs and practice teams play in responding to emergencies, from the immediate and acute phase to the long-term recovery phase. Evidence surfacing since the outbreak of the H1N1 virus in 2009 suggests that the crucial role of general practice in managing the pandemic was underestimated and not fully considered during preplanning processes.
It is crucial that general practices are able to continue providing essential services during emergencies. To ensure that practices are able to continue providing these vital services, it is imperative that they have an up-to-date emergency response plan so that they are prepared, well stocked and ready to respond to any crisis.
Practices that are prepared for an emergency are more likely to have effective continuity of care arrangements for their patients while ensuring that business operations continue to run as smoothly as possible. Furthermore, practices that have a tested emergency response plan will ultimately be better positioned to respond to the health needs of their communities.
While it is important for practices to be engaged in emergency planning processes at a practice level, it is equally important for them to participate in emergency planning processes within the wider community. The hospital sector is often represented on local emergency planning committees and there is little or no representation from the primary care sector.
To remedy the lack of primary care representation on local disaster planning committees, GPs and relevant practice staff are encouraged to engage with and/or participate in local disaster planning committees. However, it is equally important that the primary care sector be supported by governments so that they are well placed to continue providing vital services to their patients and their communities, especially in their time of need.