COVID-19 information for rural GPs


Coronavirus (COVID-19) is an evolving international health concern, and the RACGP acknowledges the significant impact and disruption that the COVID-19 pandemic will have on GPs working in rural and remote communities.

This page will be updated with the latest information as it becomes available.  This page was last updated on: 27 April 2020.

You can also find nationally relevant information via the RACGP Coronavirus (COVID19) information for GPs webpage, including state and territory specific information, contacts and resources.

For up-to-the-minute information, visit the Australian Federal Government Department of Health website and subscribe to receive the bi-weekly COVID-19 newsletter for GPs from the Chief Medical Officer.


If you have any questions about the impact of the current pandemic on your FARGP training you can get more information from this webpage for GPs in Training. Three of the most relevant FAQs from that page are included below.

You can also contact the RACGP Rural team (rural@racgp.org.au, 1800 636 764) or your RTO to answer any questions you may have about the FARGP.

 

What will happen if I run out of training time as a result of the exams being postponed?

Registrars affected by exam postponements will be able to access an additional extension term (6 months) if they would otherwise exceed their training cap. Please contact your RTO.
 

What will happen if my current practice doesn’t have a place for me as a result of this delay?

Your RTO will work with you to find an alternative training post. Once your contract at a practice expires, they have no contractual obligation to continue your employment as a registrar.


What will the RACGP recognise as training if I do different work during the COVID-19 pandemic?

We acknowledge that training placements may change for registrars due to several factors and many of which could be out of the registrar's control. Registrars may be asked to work in fever clinics or in essential services in the hospital. The RACGP has been working with RTOs to provide clear guidance about what can be recognised for training time. We acknowledge that there is a need to find flexible solutions to your situations whilst balancing the need to ensure that you progress to fellowship standards.

If you are facing a change in your circumstances to your currently approved training placement then we encourage you to make contact with your training organisation as soon as possible to discuss the suitability of different work for counting towards training. It is important to note that any contractual arrangements with your current training practice do need to be met. It is important also that any desired placement options have adequate supervision commensurate with your level of training.

If you are enrolled in the FARGP and your ARST is being impacted then this can be discussed with your training organisation and the Rural Censor. The same comments about needing suitable supervision apply for the FARGP.

Your training organisation will be able to work with you to minimise the disruption to training as much as possible.



 


MBS telehealth and telephone items have been introduced to support the response to Coronavirus (COVID-19).  The introduction of these items should help GPs deliver services in a safe environment.  These items do come with some restrictions which GPs should be aware of, e.g. it is a legislative requirement that some patients are bulk billed for these services.

You can find more information relating to delivering telehealth during the pandemic here:


 


While the pandemic has caused many courses and workshops to be cancelled or postponed, it has also highlighted areas where some GPs may want to upskill or refresh their training.

Below is some information on educational opportunities which may be of interest to rural GPs in the current environment.

 

The Rural Procedural Grants Program (RPGP)

While the RPGP is still running and GPs may still submit claims for eligible training courses they have attended, there are currently fewer courses available to attend due to the current pandemic.

The RACGP is in discussion with the Department of Health around any flexibility we may be able to introduce to the Program to acknowledge the impact of the pandemic.

We will update this section as any changes to the Program are introduced.If you have any specific questions about the program please contact the RPGP team on rural.procedural.grants@racgp.org.au or 1800 636 764. 


Webinars

The RACGP regularly produces webinars on a variety of topics which can be accessed through our website.Find a list of all of upcoming webinars here, and access our library of past webinars here.

These sessions include topics which are directly related to the pandemic, e.g. GP practice Preparedness in a Pandemic, The Mental Health Impact of a Global Pandemic, and Supporting GP Registrar Training during a Pandemic. However, there are sessions on a huge variety of topics, including those focused on providing GP care in a rural area, e.g. Palliative Care for Rural GPs, Real Life ‘Locuming’ Challenges, and Emergency Dental for Rural GPs.


Courses

The RACGP website also lists more than 500 CPD accredited activities which are organised by a variety of providers and are available via e-learning.  These include activities directly related to the pandemic, as well as those focused on updating your clinical skills. Select the e-learning tab at the top of this webpage to see all of these courses.


RACGP Rural always seeks to advocate for the best interests of rural and remote GPs.  In the current pandemic that role becomes even more important as we recognise the great pressure placed on GPs working in our rural communities.  Here is a snapshot of some of the work we’re doing to ensure your voices are heard.

The RACGP President, Dr Harry Nespolon, is currently meeting with the Department of Health regularly to push for the support Australian GPs need and to be kept up to date with all relevant updates.  It was during these discussions that we made clear to the Government the key importance of expanding telehealth options so that all GPs could safely treat patients without increasing the risk of spreading the virus.

RACGP Rural has also been participating in the Australian Government’s Rural and Remote Health Stakeholder COVID-19 teleconferences (held several times a month) to hear updates on the national response to COVID-19 and provide feedback on our current focus, efforts and concerns.

  • Communiqué - Rural and Remote Health Stakeholder Special Roundtable on COVID-19 by teleconference

In addition, RACGP Rural meets with the Minister responsible for Rural Health, the Hon Mark Coulton MP, on a one-to-one basis, to directly feed in RACGP concerns and priorities.

You can find RACGP’s media releases here or visit newsGP to stay updated on the latest developments.

While this pandemic has taken our focus, we still need to continue our business-as-usual advocacy work to ensure rural GPs are supported once the pandemic is over.  Some recent examples of this work include:

  • Working with the Department of Health to develop a more flexible AGPT RG Policy
  • The RACGP submission on the Government’s National Medical Workforce Strategy, which provided feedback on 50 proposed solutions (many of which are focused on building a sustainable rural GP workforce)
  • Meeting with State health departments to discuss the implementation of the National Rural Generalist Pathway, and to provide feedback as States start establishing their Coordination Units.


Share your concerns

We are seeking feedback from rural and remote members to share with the Department of Health and inform our membership and advocacy efforts. Please visit the RACGP Rural Faculty Facebook group to share your concerns, or email us at rural@racgp.org.au.


It’s more important than ever to stay connected to your colleagues across rural Australia.  Not only to ensure you keep up to date with what’s happening in other areas, but to gather ideas and strategies to help you handle issues as they arise, and also to fight against loneliness and burnout by sharing your experiences with GPs facing the same challenges as you. 

One way of staying connected includes engaging with the RACGP Rural Facebook group where rural GPs have been sharing their stories, concerns, and resources to help navigate the current pandemic.

We’ve also established fortnightly rural member meet-ups.  These one hour sessions highlight a different GP’s story each fortnight, letting them share how they are tackling an element of the current pandemic, encouraging questions and discussion, and letting GPs connect with each other and share their concerns.

You can listen to previous rural member meet-up sessions here.

Rural and remote GPs face a variety of different challenges and often have to come up with innovative strategies to overcome these challenges. Hearing about the solutions implemented by other GPs can be extremely helpful in navigating a complex situation.




 


It’s important to be mindful of your own health and wellness while supporting your rural and remote communities through the COVID-19 pandemic.

We’re conscious that you’re working very hard to respond to the challenges posed by COVID-19. Thank you for working tirelessly to care for Australians in need as coronavirus places increasing pressure on our healthcare system.

It’s crucial that rural and remote communities support each other, and their local health services, during this time. Please take time to care for yourselves and your practice staff and take the opportunity to debrief with colleagues.

RACGP’s GP support program

If you are experiencing workplace, training, exam, or personal stresses that are impacting your well-being, you can access the RACGP’s GP support program for free professional advice. Call 1300 361 008. 

Below is a list of health and wellbeing resources that you can access:

A number of Australian States and Territories have implemented border controls to help stop the spread of COVID-19.  The states have different rules around inter-state travel, although many grant an exemption for healthcare workers.  These rules are changing as states react to the different stages of the pandemic. Below we have outlined the advice from each of the States and Territories to help guide you if you’re considering crossing state borders to take on a locum role or to help out an area in need.  We have linked to the state websites in each section and would encourage you to check those sites for the most up-to-date information.  If you do travel inter-state in your professional capacity we would encourage you to take all relevant documentation relating to the job you’ll be taking up e.g. a printed copy of the job confirmation with the practice/hospital contact information, a copy of your contract, etc.
 

Queensland

Queensland has implemented border closures, with exemptions for certain individuals including: “A health practitioner who is requested by the Queensland Chief Health Officer or their delegate to present for duty in Queensland to perform health services”.  Individuals who are eligible for exemption must apply for a Queensland Entry Pass.  

Queensland Health have stated "There will be no expectation that clinical staff, as long as they have NOT travelled Internationally will need to self-isolate". 

 

Western Australia

Strict state borders are in place and no one may enter Western Australia unless an exemption has been granted.  Exemptions apply for a number of different individuals, including “persons carrying out a function under a law of the Commonwealth Health services when requested by the Chief Health Officer of the Department of Health”. 

If you believe you qualify for an exemption you must apply for approval to travel, either by completing a paper-based exemption application form, or by using the G2G PASS app.  If you apply for approval to travel via the G2G PASS app, a QR code will be generated which can be displayed on a mobile phone and/or through a vehicle window without human contact. 

If you apply for an exemption, you must carry your exemption form and proof of its submission when travelling. You may be asked to produce this documentation at a checkpoint or by WA Police patrolling the area. 

If your exemption category requires further documentation or proof, you must produce this on request. Failure to produce this documentation may result in penalties including imprisonment or a fine of up to $50,000 for individuals or $250,000 for organisations. 

Each facility will determine if a locum will need to quarantine for the 14 days or if they can commence immediately with a risk assessment. 

Western Australian also has restrictions on intrastate travel and is defined as movement through the boundaries of their regions. Each region has their own set of parameters when deciding on quarantine issues. 

 

South Australia

Border control check-points are operating for traffic entering South Australia, and non-essential travellers will have to self-quarantine for 14 days.  The definition of an essential traveller states: 

“Persons who are requested by the Chief Executive of the Department for Health and Wellbeing, or by the Secretary of the Commonwealth Department of Health, or by the delegate of either, to assist in the provision of health services in South Australia and who are required to be physically present in South Australia in the conduct of those duties.

Note— This means that South Australian health care workers who wish to provide services in another State or jurisdiction will be required to undertake a 14-day quarantine period on their return to South Australia. The only exception is a person who falls within the terms of this clause.” 

 

Northern Territory

Border controls have been implemented in the Northern Territory, meaning non-essential travellers arriving at the NT border must complete 14 days of forced quarantine. Travellers will be monitored an accommodated for the duration – but accommodation expenses will be at your own cost. You may be exempt from this forced quarantine if you are an essential traveller.  The definition of an essential traveller includes: 

  • “A health practitioner who is ordinarily a resident in the Territory and who is requested by the chief executive officer of the Department of Health, or his or her delegate, to return to the Territory to present for duty in the Territory.”
  • “A health practitioner who is requested by the Chief Executive Officer of the Department of Health, or his or her delegate, to present for duty in the Territory to perform, during the period in which the person will be present in the Territory, duties required to be performed in the Territory.” 

Essential travellers must submit an application for exemption which will be assessed by the Chief Health Officer or appropriate delegate.  The processing of applications can take up to 10 business days. 

 

Tasmania

Border controls are in place in Tasmania, with all travellers required to quarantine for 14 days unless they meet essential traveller or exemption criteria and have received official communication stating they are exempt.  Current exemption categories include: 

  • A clinician in relation to healthcare who is ordinarily a resident in Tasmania and who is requested by the Secretary of the Department of Health, or his or her delegate, to return to Tasmania to present for duty in Tasmania.
  • A clinician in relation to healthcare who is requested by the Secretary of the Department of Health, or his or her delegate, to present for duty in Tasmania to perform, during the period in which the person will be present in Tasmania, duties unable to be appropriately performed by a person ordinarily resident in Tasmania. 

Health care workers seeking an exemption from quarantine must complete an application form at least 24 hours prior to travelling to Tasmania. 

When not carrying out approved work duties health care workers should uphold quarantine standards for 14 days from arrival in Tasmania, including staying at home or in a hotel, and strictly applying social distancing and hygiene requirements. 

 

New South Wales, Victoria, and the Australian Capital Territory

At this time there are no restrictions to entering these States/Territory – no border closures have been implemented. 
 


RACGP Rural is the RACGP’s dedicated rural and remote Faculty and Australia’s largest representative body of rural general practitioners (GPs).

RACGP Rural
Phone: 1800 636 764
Email: rural@racgp.org.au

Join the RACGP Rural Facebook group to connect with your colleagues and stay up to date.

 

If you would like more information on a specific topic, or would like other key topics to be added, please contact the Rural team on rural@racgp.org.au or 1800 636 764.