Disasters are increasing in frequency, in severity, and in the number of people affected. Climate change and climate-related disasters are major contributors to this observed increase.1 In recent years, Australia has experienced a number of formidable disasters including the 2019–20 Black Summer bushfires and the COVID-19 pandemic, alongside a number of smaller but also devastating bushfires, floods, cyclones and storms. Since January 2019, Disaster Assist acknowledges 100 different disasters in Australia for which they are offering support for multiple affected communities.
Disasters can affect humans in multiple ways including socially, physically, mentally and economically. Disasters impact the social determinants of health, including employment status, housing, access to healthcare, and food insecurity, leading to poor long-term outcomes.2,3 Studies are beginning to explore the relationship between disaster occurrence and socio-economic disadvantage.4 No Australian community is exempt from the risk of disaster whether defined by geographic location or by cultural characteristics: metro/urban, regional, rural and remote locations, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities, and culturally and linguistically diverse communities.
Health effects of disasters can occur over the immediate, short and long-term and can lead to acute and chronic physical and mental impacts.5 Typical acute disaster-related presentations include burns, smoke and dehydration.5 Disasters are also linked to preterm births, poor control of established conditions such as diabetes, delayed diagnosis of other new medical conditions, increased deaths in the elderly population and long-term psychological impacts.5 Disasters can also have indirect impacts, including damage to health infrastructure, loss of access to healthcare and dislocation between patients and their regular healthcare provider, which causes gaps in continuity of care.5
General practitioners (GPs) manage the bulk of usual healthcare in a community in inter-disaster periods. This healthcare burden does not disappear when disasters occur and research shows the major burden of care in disasters falls within the realm of general practice.6,7
GPs are essential during crisis and the value and relevance of primary care in disasters is acknowledged by many, including the World Health