The Royal Australian College of General Practitioners (RACGP) has today marked a milestone in general practice’s role in the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic.
More than 1,000 general practices will begin administering vaccines to patients as part of phase 1b of the COVID-19 vaccine program. The program will rapidly scale up in coming weeks to include more than 4,500 accredited general practices across Australia.
Phase 1b targets more vulnerable patients, including older people, some healthcare workers, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people over the age of 55, younger adults with an underlying medical condition including those with disability and critical and high-risk workers including defence, police, fire, emergency services and meat processors.
RACGP President Dr Price said that general practice will play a key role in the vaccine rollout.
“Today is a huge step forward in the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic,” she said.
“I am one of many GPs participating in this pivotal phase of the vaccine rollout, which is protecting some of the most vulnerable people in our community.
“I know all GPs would want to be able to vaccinate their patients – this is what we do. Most Australians will get the AstraZeneca vaccine and many will want to be vaccinated by their usual GP, if they can. That makes sense because most Australians go to their GP for their other vaccinations and many will do just that for their COVID-19 vaccine.
“There are GPs living and working in communities in every corner of Australia and that includes small towns and remote Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities. We are connected to our communities; we know our patients and they trust us.
“GPs are perfectly placed to increase vaccine confidence and uptake. This is especially true for GPs who engage with culturally and linguistically diverse communities and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.”
The RACGP President welcomed new measures announced on Friday to support GPs including an investment of $5 million to support GP wellbeing. The Government also made commitment to guarantee a steadily increasing supply of the Oxford University/AstraZeneca vaccines over the next 12 weeks.
“They wanted to hear directly from us about what our problems were,” she said.
“Obviously, we also talked about the booking issue, that we needed that to be ready, and we needed to know about that ahead of time, and they acknowledged the stress not having advance warning had caused. But we are definitely going to get the vaccine supply sorted. It’s going to take a little bit of time, but we’ll have some predictability.”
Dr Price said certainty over the supply will be vital, as it will allow general practices to properly plan for the weeks ahead
“That’s really critical. If we’ve got the tools and the supply, we can do our job,” she said.
“We can book our own patients and we can go forward with more confidence. As long as we know what we’ve got to work with, then we can start delivering it.”
Dr Price said that the RACGP will continue to provide advice to Government in resolving problems arising from the vaccine rollout.
“The announcement on Friday was a positive step forward. It was necessary because many GP clinics were inundated with calls last week as people frantically tried to book in their vaccine appointments and this additional workload was on top of normal, day-to-day presentations,” she said.
“This can be attributed to the online booking system only providing phone numbers for bookings rather than linking directly to existing practice booking systems. When issues like this arise, they must be resolved as quickly as possible and once again I note that the RACGP looks forward to assisting in any way possible.
“Prior to the government clarifying the supply issue, I had heard reports of GP clinics being frustrated that they were listed on the site when they had not received their vaccines yet. Practices could not offer appointments if they did not have certainty about vaccine supply and some clinics have said that they were listed even though they will not be receiving their vaccines until next month.
“So clearly there have been issues concerning the government’s direct communication with general practice and they’ve since promised to do better with communication. We are a vital moment of this vaccine rollout and we need the support to look after our patients and play our part.
“As the rollout begins today, it’s also important that the government improves communication with the boarder community on the vaccine rollout process. We need to manage expectations because otherwise we will have a repeat of last week where many practices bore the brunt of some very frustrated callers.”
Dr Price also reiterated calls for patients to treat general practice staff with courtesy and respect.
“Once again, I urge patience and understanding from anyone contacting general practices in the first weeks of the rollout,” she said.
“I appreciate that you want to have your vaccine appointment booked as soon as possible, but please remember that receptionists and administrative staff are doing their best in very trying circumstances. Many practices will already be going through their patient records to identify who is eligible and these practices will reach out to their usual patients to book in an appointment.
“For any patients who are feeling anxious I remind them that everyone in phase 1b who wants to be vaccinated will be vaccinated, you will not miss out.
“Many general practices had a bruising week last week. I urge all GPs, nurses, receptionists, and administrative staff across Australia not to be discouraged.
“I am immensely proud of all general practices taking part in this vaccine roll-out. You are part of a massive public health effort and in time we will be recognised for the incredible work we are undertaking to vaccinate vulnerable populations and keep them safe.
“We could not perform this vaccine rollout without you, let’s stay the course and work together.”