Access to personal protective equipment
The second most commonly cited challenge, by 48% of GPs, is difficulty accessing adequate PPE including masks, gloves, eye protection and gowns (Figure 8).
Healthcare workers rely on PPE to protect themselves and their patients from being infected and infecting others. Supply chain disruptions caused by increased global demand for PPE, and some instances of panic buying or misuse, meant GPs were not always able to obtain adequate supplies of PPE through normal distribution channels. Prices surged to privately purchase PPE, causing increased financial pressure on practices.26 Although masks were distributed to practices through Primary Health Networks, supplies were initially sporadic, and gowns and other PPE were not supplied.
One study indicated that 30% of healthcare workers resorted to using non-traditional or non-vetted forms of PPE, and 70% of healthcare workers needed to ration their use of PPE.27
In Victoria during the month of August, an average number of 33.7 new cases among healthcare workers were diagnosed each day. At least 69% of all healthcare workers who were infected with COVID-19 acquired it in the workplace, including hospitals, aged care services, and general practice.28
By the end of July, there had been seven waves of Medicare reform related to telehealth item numbers. One in three GPs report that constantly changing messaging around new Medicare telehealth item number usage (33%), and COVID-19 testing criteria (29%), were significant stressors at the start of the pandemic. Financial pressure, complying with social distancing rules, and own wellbeing are ranked similarly highly as challenges which impact on GPs’ ability to provide care (Figure 8).
GPs who work in Aboriginal Medical Services are more likely to cite difficulty complying with social distancing rules as one of their top three challenges (43%) compared to GPs working in other locations (29%).5
GPs also report that obtaining enough stock to supply flu vaccinations for their patients was a significant challenge, despite advice issued to the public that it was imperative to get vaccinated earlier this year. In a poll of over 1000 RACGP members in late April 2020, 54% reported they were unable to access enough stock to provide influenza vaccinations to their patients.29