18 July 2022

RACGP welcomes new Melbourne GP respiratory clinics

The Royal Australian College of General Practitioners (RACGP) has welcomed the Victorian Government stepping up measures to fight COVID-19 community transmission and ensure patients can access the care they need.

It comes following Premier Daniel Andrews announcing that two paediatric GP respiratory clinics will be established at the Royal Children's and Monash Children's hospitals to prevent children from having to go to a hospital emergency department if they are suffering respiratory symptoms typical of COVID-19, influenza, asthma or hayfever. The Government also announced a $162 million package to recruit around 400 additional staff for 12 major hospitals across Victoria to combat staff shortages.

In recent months, the RACGP has strongly pushed back on more than one occasion against comments from public figures that GPs were responsible for pressures on hospitals because they were reluctant to see patients with respiratory symptoms.

RACGP President Adj. Professor Karen Price welcomed the announcement.

“This is a timely announcement that will help ensure children with respiratory symptoms can access the care they need, when they need it,” she said.

“A hospital emergency department is far from an ideal place for them to be. Our EDs are operating under tremendous pressure with long wait times, and we want to try and limit the spread of respiratory illnesses to other people with health concerns waiting for care.

“Also, a practice may not always have the capacity to accommodate children with respiratory symptoms, particularly given GPs and general practice teams are managing such a large patient load. Each individual practice has to make extremely careful decisions about managing patients in a pandemic. Some practices in Victoria will have the capacity to see patients with respiratory symptoms; however, others sometimes will not.

“In those circumstances, it is suitable for children to instead visit a respiratory clinic. We can’t just discard all the systems we have put in place during the pandemic to help keep our patients and practice teams as safe as possible. Practices still have to triage symptomatic patients and implement infection control precautions such as the use of personal protective equipment and this takes time and resources. So, announcements like this one make a real difference, particularly at a time of high community transmission of COVID-19, the flu, and other viruses including RSV.”

RACGP Victoria Chair Dr Anita Munoz said that practices state-wide were doing an incredible job.

“This announcement couldn’t come at a more important time,” she said.

“Practices are up against it delivering COVID-19 vaccines and boosters, as well as influenza vaccines and helping people who have delayed or avoided consultations and screenings during the pandemic. We are also helping patients with mental health issues and delivering more patient services than ever. With the recent expansion of eligibility for oral treatments for COVID-19, GPs are also busy ensuring timely access for their patients to these lifesaving medicines.

“So, any step that can potentially ease pressure on general practice and the entire health system is welcome. I’m immensely proud of all practice teams who are working so hard in such challenging circumstances. Instead of blaming GPs for an overburdened hospital system, I encourage our nation’s leaders to follow the example of Premier Andrews and instead invest in measures like these respiratory clinics for our kids.

“I also encourage everyone to please be kind to GPs, practice managers, nurses, receptionists, and administrative workers. We have been through a lot and with high COVID-19 case numbers and recent changes announced to boosters some practices are again reporting disrespectful behaviour and abuse from patients. We are doing our best, so please try and remain patient and calm.”

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