Key recommendations for the inclusion of general practitioners into evacuation centres

Key recommendations

Recommendation 3

Recommendation 3: Providing a safe working environment in evacuation centres 

GPs working and volunteering in evacuation centres have the right to a safe work environment and to be covered under relevant Work Health and Safety (WHS)/Occupational Health and Safety regulations. See Safe Work Australia for more details.

To provide a safe working environment for GPs in evacuation centres, planning agencies should:

  • establish maximum hours and consecutive days of work*, including:
    • standard eight-hour shifts, with a maximum of 10 hours if required
    • a standard of five consecutive shifts, with a maximum of seven consecutive shifts if required
    • a minimum of 10 hours off between each shift
    • reasonable breaks in all shifts to allow GPs to rest for a period
  • establish rosters that are:
    • flexible and closely reflect the demand for GP services within the evacuation centre; as time passes, the need for a GP onsite may decrease, and the number of rostered workers and/or rostered hours should reflect this
    • able to accommodate GP volunteers who have been personally impacted by the disaster and may need to leave a shift early due to distress or other competing priorities as they arise
  • provide health and wellbeing support for GPs, which includes:
    • an employee assistance program, or details of other available support services be provided to all GPs working or volunteering (see Part B – Section 6: Support services for GPs)
    • involvement of GPs in post-disaster after-action review or operational debriefing facilitated by the PHN/LHD, including all members of the medical response team (eg GPs, administrative, nursing and PHN personnel)
    • establishment of a GP-specific communication tool (eg a WhatsApp group chat) to support decision making in the evacuation centre, which could include peer support, evacuation centre access, emerging safety issues and rostering updates
    • establishing peer support networks for GPs in different evacuation centres, or non-local GPs with evacuation centre experience, to exchange learnings and support.

 *Because an evacuation centre is not an acute care facility, overnight attendance by a GP is unlikely to be required and should not be expected. In many cases a GP ‘round’ or attendance for one to two hours a day may be most appropriate. This is preferable because it will enable GPs to continue to provide services in their usual general practice as well.

Workplace health and safety legislation varies across states and territories in terms of a volunteer’s ability to access workers compensation, if required. Relevant workplace health and safety legislation will typically recognise volunteers as workers and, in most circumstances, protect the physical and mental health of a volunteer in the same way paid employees are protected. Where volunteers are not covered under legislation, the organisation engaging volunteers should have an accident insurance policy and public liability insurance to cover volunteers in the event of injury.

To further support a safe working environment, it is recommended that PHN disaster planning and response funding is increased to include remuneration for GPs. This will provide security around WHS, access to workers compensation and employer-provided professional indemnity insurance.

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