During the Australia's bushfire crisis, among the healthcare team, GPs play a vital role in dealing with various public health concerns.
As bushfires took away millions of hectares of land, people's lives and properties have been lost while major cities far away from the centre of the fire were covered with toxic smoke over the past month.
More than half of Australia is either on fire or under high alert this summer. Dr Penny Burns, GP and disaster medicine specialist, told newsGP that there is a lot of care needed for people with chronic conditions. For example, people with chronic conditions such as hypertension and diabetes need their medications and need monitoring.
The widespread scale of the threat has led to five hospital relocations in NSW and Australian Medical Assistance Team (AUSMAT) specialists have been deployed domestically for the first time to help people in communities affected.
Thousands of Australians are staying in evacuation centres, some without homes, in fear of a mega-fire which may develop across the border of New South Wales and Victoria.
However, in response to the crisis, there has been limited assistance or coordination for GPs providing medical care on the frontline, or for those who would like to volunteer.
President Dr Harry Nespolon told newsGP that GPs should really be included in emergency planning and responses. However, as emergency planning and response is handled by state governments, while general practice is covered by the Federal Government, greater coordination among the departments to involve more GPs assistance is much needed.
Also according to him, GPs have been doing amazing work under incredibly difficult conditions. Yet, more medical assistance in these areas are suggested by the reports from the frontline, and the Government should work out possible ways to meet those needs.
For example, there should be a comprehensive, centralised process to assist GPs who want to act as locums in affected areas to provide immediate healthcare to people who are in urgent need.
Dr Nespolon said there also needs to be consideration for the financial and emotional help for rural practitioners. As giving care to people in those affected areas is a difficult job to do, GPs should be given support so they could be in a good state to assist the general public.
Greater financial support for GPs providing patient services to impacted people and communities, including through the Medicare Benefits Schedule, is suggested as one highly potential option.
Disaster medicine specialist Dr Penny Burns previously told newsGP one way GPs can help during disasters is to try and keep clinics running as usual and, if possible, expand to accommodate increased numbers or different presentations based on their capacity.
This will definitely help the Emergency Departments and other responders by reducing the workload for them.
In larger, more catastrophic disasters, GPs may be required to respond to the site or assist at a temporary medical clinic or evacuation centre.
There can also be specific health concerns for which GPs need to closely monitor, depending on the type of disaster taking place.
In smoke-related events, the effects on those with pre-existing respiratory conditions will need to be considered, with either early evacuation or advice to act accordingly and review of management including medications from GPs.
Once the disaster event has passed, GPs’ efforts within the community can be extremely helpful in the next phase of treatment.
GPs have a role in supporting patients in acute distress. Just last week, it was announced that more mental health support services will be immediately given to firefighters, emergency personnel, individuals and communities impacted by the ongoing bushfire disaster.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison said an initial $76 million would fund free counselling sessions, extra Medicare and tele-health consultations, an expansion of headspace services for young Australians, and community recovery initiatives.
According to the announcement, people impacted by bushfires will receive Medicare rebates for up to 10 psychological therapy sessions provided by GPs, psychologists, and other eligible mental health professionals.
It can be seen that GPs work to identify those most at risk and make sure they are reviewed, as well as those whose distress is continuing and require further care or referral.
They are also aware of the family and community context so are able to monitor those who may have experienced substantial loss to give them treatment as early as possible.
What do you think about the current roles GPs are demonstrating? We would love to hear from Doctors who are passionate about assisting the community through the crisis.
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