The Royal Australian College of GPs (RACGP) has stepped up calls for government to support GPs and practice teams helping communities affected by floods, including people with mental health concerns.
RACGP Vice President and Townsville-based GP, Dr Michael Clements, said the RACGP was committed to ensuring GPs, practice teams, and the communities they care for were well supported during this challenging time.
“Natural disasters are incredibly tough for everyone, but they have a two-fold impact on GPs and practice teams,” he said.
“On the one hand you are concerned about your safety, your family’s safety, and the safety of your home, as well as your practice. But you are also concerned about the health and safety of your patients, in particular those who are most vulnerable during a national disaster, and you feel your responsibility to provide care acutely. That is why the RACGP is so focused on supporting GPs and practice teams during these incredibly challenging times.
“Today, the RACGP has written to federal Minister for Health and Aged Care, Mark Butler, and Queensland Health Minister, Shannon Fentiman, requesting additional resources to help people with mental health issues in flood-affected areas. This includes allowing eligible patients up to 20 Medicare-subsidised consults over the next 12-to-18 months under Mental Health Care Plans.
“We are also calling for funding to enable GPs across the flood-affected regions to access Focussed Psychological Strategies Skills Training to enable GPs to access certain Medicare item numbers for advanced mental health care consultations provided by GPs. This is extremely important in regional, rural, and remote communities that don’t have access to local mental health services, such as psychologists, counsellors, and psychiatrists.”
RACGP Queensland Chair, Dr Cathryn Hester, said that natural disasters also helped shine a light on some of the cracks in general practice that GPs and practice teams are used to papering over.
“The reality is if general practice is strong and sustainable, it is easier to absorb the kinds of shocks a natural disaster throws up, particularly the challenges of the recovery,” she said.
“However, as we all know, financial sustainability is a major challenge for general practice, and we don’t necessarily have the resilience in the system that we should have. This is something we have reiterated again and again to federal and state and territory governments – we must secure the future of general practice so that we can better manage unexpected events, including natural disasters. That includes ensuring that payroll tax obligations don’t put more pressure on practices across Australia.
“Due to the impacts of climate change, extreme weather events will become more common, so we must ensure that general practice is adequately resourced and prepared so that we can serve communities in need.”
Dr Hester said the College was also talking to government about other kinds of immediate supports that helped GPs continue to provide care.
“One straightforward yet vital one is having portable provider numbers,” she said.
“This means if your practice is inundated by flooding, you can move to another premise and get started on providing care without having to deal with a whole load of paperwork. That means people who need care are going to be able to access it without delay.
“We would also like to see GPs prioritised for electricity reconnection. It seems like a simple thing, but practices unfortunately are not given priority even though we provide an essential service, and that must change.”
The RACGP is working with the North Queensland Primary Health Network, the federal Health Department, and Queensland Health to ensure GPs and practice teams impacted by the Far North Queensland floods have the support they need to provide essential healthcare.
The College has a dedicated floods page on its website with information to help GPs in flood-affected areas: http://www.racgp.org.au/qld-floods.
RACGP spokespeople are available for comment.
About the RACGP
The Royal Australian College of General Practitioners (RACGP) is the peak representative organisation for general practice, the backbone of Australia’s health system. We set the standards for general practice, facilitate lifelong learning for GPs, connect the general practice community, and advocate for better health and wellbeing for all Australians.
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