18 August 2022

RACGP: Voice of general practice must be heard on COVID-19 vaccine rollout

The Royal Australian College of General Practitioners (RACGP) has warned that general practice’s role in the COVID-19 vaccine rollout must be front of mind for the nation’s leaders.

It comes following the release of the Australian National Audit Office’s (ANAO) performance audit of the 2021 vaccine rollout.

RACGP President Adj. Professor Karen Price said it was disappointing the audit barely made mention of general practice.

“Once again, the role of general practice is not front and centre. GPs and general practice teams are the backbone of the vaccine rollout, but we barely feature in the performance audit findings,” she said.

“In our submission and in many public comments throughout 2021, we raised the importance of general practice being given more support. That included improved communication with practices and greater funding support for overwhelmed GPs and general practice teams doing everything possible to get as many jabs in arms as quickly as possible.

“However, our message appears to have been lost in the wash. Mentions of general practice are largely related to defining primary care or as footnotes and the impact of the rollout on GPs and general practice teams didn’t feature at all. In addition, there is no analysis as to appropriate funding for participation in the vaccine rollout.

“Crucially, the audit recommends that the Health Department conduct a ‘comprehensive review’ of the rollout by the end of the year including recommendations to the Government concerning ‘opportunities for improvement in the event of a future vaccination rollout’. So, I certainly hope this review takes full account of the vital role of GPs and general practice teams and our insights into how the vaccine rollout could have been managed more effectively. Our voice must be heard if we are to learn from this experience and ensure the next mass vaccination rollout doesn’t run into the same old problems.

“The review should examine how government communicates with general practice because one of the most frustrating parts of the rollout was learning about eligibility changes via our patients or a press conference on TV. It must also get to the bottom of why practices reported many logistical failings such as vaccines not arriving on time or fewer doses received than ordered. Last but certainly not least, we must have greater GP representation at all levels of government and policy making in response to not only pandemics, but other disasters impacting the health of the community.

“GPs and general practice teams have done a tremendous job throughout the pandemic, including our critical role in the vaccine rollout. Our insights must not be forgotten, otherwise we will repeat the same mistakes again and again. I look forward to the RACGP playing a prominent role in the Government’s review this year.”

The RACGP’s submission to the audit highlighted:

·    priority populations including Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, residential aged care workers and people with a disability experiencing difficulties accessing the vaccine

·    a need for improved communication with the public to boost education, awareness, and vaccine confidence

·    the problems of a lag time in communications which resulted in general practices not being prepared for changes to the rollout, including eligibility criteria.

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