The Royal Australian College of General Practitioners (RACGP) has released a handy toolkit to help practices ensure the health and safety of patients and practice teams during the winter months.
The Winter Planning Toolkit provides information on:
infection prevention and control
workforce protection and planning
processes for patient management
managing the risk of cross infection
health and wellbeing of staff.
RACGP President Adj. Professor Karen Price encouraged practices to take a good look at the toolkit.
“Winter is upon us, and we must be prepared,” she said.
“During the colder months, people huddle inside more in close proximity to each other, and germs spread. That includes common colds, influenza, and of course the virus that has been front of mind the last two- and a-bit years - COVID-19. There is also evidence that suggests cold, dry air like you find typically in the winter months in my home city of Melbourne helps the spread of respiratory viruses and this may include COVID-19.
“The flu is back and, after two years free from the virus when our borders were slammed shut, rates are rising in communities across Australia. Many people are reporting that strains currently circulating are making them sicker for longer than has been the case in the past.
“There is no need to be unduly alarmed; however, there are important steps practices and patients can take to limit the spread of the flu. That includes getting vaccinated and remembering all those things we learnt about during the pandemic such as sneezing or coughing into your elbow or wearing a mask if sick.”
The RACGP President said that the resource will prove useful for practices across Australia.
“I urge even the most experienced of GPs and general practice teams to consider how this toolkit can help them,” she said.
“For example, it helpfully outlines possible approaches practices can take when delivering flu vaccines during the pandemic. The RACGP continues to push for patients to receive flu vaccinations from their regular GP to reduce fragmented care – we are a one-stop shop for all vaccines. However, people who are particularly vulnerable to severe effects from the flu must not be invited into unprepared clinics to receive their flu vaccine. Instead, the resource has tips on how they should be kept separate, such as dedicating clinic time and space for flu vaccinations.
“Some practices have even used outdoor vaccination locations and practices can also consider combining forces with other practices in the local area to establish shared vaccination clinics. This can be logistically challenging and expensive for practices, including those that have struggled to absorb the cost of participating in the COVID-19 vaccine rollout. That is why the RACGP has been advocating for increased financial support for practices – we are the backbone of the vaccine rollouts, and we are needed by our communities more than ever before.
“The resource also has useful information on infection prevention and control measures to reduce the risk of infection between patients visiting the practice and staff who work there. The last thing we want is patients turning up to a practice with one health condition and leaving with another, including a case of influenza or COVID-19.
“That is why steps like local infection prevention and control procedures as well as education and training for all practice staff when they commence employment are so important. Adequate personal protective equipment, or PPE, is also essential. Recently, I was disappointed to hear Western Australian Premier Mark McGowan blame GPs for an over-stretched hospital system and remind us to don PPE when treating people with respiratory illnesses. We don’t need a reminder on PPE, GPs and general practice teams fully understand its importance. The problem is absorbing the cost of doing so with little support from government on this front throughout the pandemic.
“We aren’t forgetting about our warmer northern communities experiencing dry season conditions. It is common to see an increase in infection risk due to a rise in tourism during this time. So, this isn’t just a resource for practices in our colder areas, there is something for all clinics.”
The college has developed a number of resources to support GPs and general practice teams during the COVID-19 pandemic. You can find these resources in one centralised location on the RACGP website. The resources cover clinical care, infection control, resources for patients, and telehealth. GPs and general practice teams can also access news and updates relating to the COVID-19 vaccine program.