The Royal Australian College of General Practitioners (RACGP) is urging patients not to take their frustrations out on general practice receptionists and administrative staff over vaccine appointments.
It follows widespread reports of GP clinics being inundated with calls from people impatient to book their COVID-19 vaccine appointment, with some people behaving in a disrespectful and aggressive manner towards those answering the phones.
Yesterday, the Government released details of the first 1104 GP clinics that will commence delivery of the AstraZeneca vaccinations from Monday under phase 1b. It led to a significant number of phone calls to GP clinics across Australia due in part to the Health Department’s online booking system only providing phone numbers for bookings rather than linking directly to existing practice booking systems where available.
RACGP President Dr Karen Price called for calm.
“I understand that patients are eager to receive their vaccination and that is positive news; however, I plead with all people to please be respectful when speaking to receptionists and administrative staff managing this huge volume of calls about vaccines on top of their day-to-day presentations,” she said.
“They are doing their best in very challenging circumstances. It may be a frustrating experience, but if you are kept on hold for an extended period or told that a booking can’t be made yet due to uncertainty about when vaccine supplies will be delivered, my message is simple – please be patient.
“Yesterday was a very difficult day for many GPs, nurses, receptionists and administrative staff in clinics across the country. I want them to know that the RACGP is fighting for them and not to be discouraged because you are performing a vital job.
“I am immensely proud of all the GP clinics participating in this pivotal phase of the vaccine roll-out, which is protecting some of the most vulnerable people in our community.
“For time being I advise patients to hold off contacting GP clinics until general practice can achieve greater certainty on how many AstraZeneca vaccines will be delivered and when. Many practices will already be going through their patient records to identify who is eligible and will reach out to their usual patients to organise an appointment.
“We must be patient because we know that in the initial weeks of phase 1b, there will be a limited amount of vaccine stock available. Local manufacturer, CSL, have said that they will be able to ramp up to produce one million doses a week very soon, which would enable the vaccine to be rolled out to more practices and more patients.
“So, let’s keep calm and stay the course. Everyone in phase 1b will be vaccinated in coming weeks, you will not miss out.”
The RACGP President also called for greater support from the Federal Government.
“This is a massive logistical effort on the part of GP clinics across Australia and we need all the support we can get from the Government,” she said.
“GP clinics on the frontline are under an extraordinary amount of pressure and we need the Government to communicate clearly with us. GPs need assurances on the supply chain of doses and predictable supply well ahead of time in order to match the demand with supply, staffing and practice logistics.
“Issues concerning the online booking system must be resolved as quickly as possible. The RACGP is keenly aware of concerns regarding the integration of software systems and how this is affecting the ability of people to book their vaccine appointment online.
“It is vital that the Government resolves this issue promptly to make the booking process straightforward for patients and the RACGP looks forward to assisting in any way.
“As I said yesterday, it is clear from the phone calls being made to general practice that the Government also needs to better communicate with the community on the vaccine rollout process, and not build unrealistic expectations, particularly at this early stage.
“General practice is playing a key role and the last thing we want is to have additional stress placed on GPs, nurses, receptionists and administrative staff doing all they can to vaccinate patients.”