The Royal Australian College of General Practitioners (RACGP) has warned that now is not the time to throw blame at GPs and general practice teams for the pressures on the Western Australia’s hospitals.
It comes following comments made by the Western Australia Premier Mark McGowan today, who claimed that GPs were “driving more people into our hospitals”. Premier McGowan also stated: “Isn’t the Hippocratic Oath that you’re supposed to allow anyone to come in and receive medical attention? So, I’d just ask our GPs across the state, if people are unwell, please deal with them. Referring them to our emergency departments just puts additional pressure onto our hospitals.”
RACGP President Adj. Professor Karen Price said that GPs and general practice teams in Western Australia deserve better.
“I encourage Premier McGowan to reflect on the fact that GPs and general practice teams truly are the foundation of the nation’s health system and that we are doing our absolute best,” she said.
“GPs and general practice teams in Western Australia, and across Australia, are doing an incredible job. We are delivering COVID-19 vaccines, boosters, and influenza vaccines, helping people who have delayed or avoided consultations and screenings during the pandemic and those with mental health issues and delivering more patient services than ever.
“It is completely unfair and unacceptable to blame an overburdened hospital system on GPs and general practice teams. In fact, it is our preventive care, early intervention, and sub-acute care that results in reduced numbers of people presenting to emergency departments. We are desperately needed by our communities and working extremely hard. I remind the Premier that without us, the healthcare system would collapse.
“Instead of blaming GPs for the pressures being placed on the state’s hospitals, he should be supporting GPs and general practice teams. I note that he has encouraged us to wear the appropriate personal protective equipment and ‘appropriate masks’. That is all well and good and GPs and general practice teams of course understand the importance of PPE, but throughout the pandemic many practices have reported significant shortages with no support from the state.
“So, instead of criticising us, why not get behind general practice and assist with PPE and help us with the many challenges GPs and general practice teams are facing on the frontline every day. Many GPs and practice staff are also off sick, having come down with COVID-19 or another virus. They are stretched and they are at breaking point. The timing of today’s comments could not be worse, this really looks like a case of kicking GPs and general practice teams when they are down.”
RACGP WA Chair Dr Ramya Raman said that the Western Australian Premier should be mindful of the pressures facing practices in his state.
“GPs don’t need to be reminded about the Hippocratic Oath; we are fully aware of our responsibilities as health practitioners,” she said.
“No GP would ‘refer’ patients to emergency departments unless absolutely necessary, we do our best to help all the patients that come through our door every day with a range of health conditions including respiratory illness. What the Premier clearly isn’t considering is that each individual practice has to make extremely careful decisions about managing patients in a pandemic.
“As the Royal Australian College of GPs noted yesterday in response to the comments from the Queensland Deputy Premier, some practices in Western Australia will have the capacity to see patients with respiratory symptoms; however, others sometimes will not.
“We are experiencing high community transmission of COVID-19 in Western Australia, and we can’t just discard all the systems we have implemented during the pandemic to help keep our practices and teams as safe as possible. We 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.
“If practices don’t have the space to manage this task, they will have processes in place to refer patients appropriately, be that to a nearby practice or a local GP led respiratory clinic. Please keep in mind what would happen if we didn’t take precautions. Once COVID-19 spreads throughout a practice and GPs and staff are forced to isolate, it has a huge impact on patients in that community. We are not ‘driving more people into hospitals’, we are doing all we can to limit COVID-19 transmission in our practices, anything less would be irresponsible.”
This RACGP resource has been developed to support GPs and general practice teams in providing care to people with respiratory symptoms.
The COVID-19 pandemic put a spotlight on the essential role that GPs play in our communities; the numbers make it clear general practice does the heavy lifting.
GPs are delivering more services than ever – over 171.5 million services were delivered to 21.8 million patients across Australia from 2020-2021, a considerable increase from around 163 million services in the previous year. When it comes to vaccinations, GPs again are responsible for providing the vast majority of jabs, including over 50% of the 58 million COVID-19 vaccines administered to date, and 69% of influenza vaccines already administered this year.