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In Australia, COVID-19 is challenging many aspects of the healthcare system and our frontline practitioners.

In particular, General Practices are scrambling to do their best. Part of the RACGP Standards for General Practice requires all Accredited General Practices to have an Emergency Response Plan (ERP, including for pandemics) for service continuity. The ERP considers significant and critical changes in patient demands; health systems functioning (e.g. dis-integration of primary and tertiary care); key workforce capacity; and equipment and supplies amongst other systems issues.

Any practices that remember the 2009 flu pandemic would have a robust ERP. Practices with an ERP appoint a Pandemic Management Coordinator and Communication Coordinator. These key positions ensure a careful, scheduled and planned roll-out of education and training for staff to respond to the Pandemic; testing the Pandemic Response Plan which is updated regularly and is evidence-based; review policies relating to infection control, stocks and supplies, human resources (include staff wellbeing), communicate in a timely manner with staff and their patient cohort; engage with governmental and health agencies; and collect, use and store data to guide local response to the pandemic as it progresses in the community.

The complexity of the COVID-19 outbreak will test each and every general practice and their ERP. In an age where the public has high expectations for our healthcare system and GPs try to communicate according to their patients’ expectations, it will be stressful for all when COVID-19 information changes on a daily basis. In some context such as the Aboriginal Health Services and those general practices to serve a large CALD and refugee communities, other considerations are important. Communication and engagement with the community need to be culturally competent and safe and appropriately translated materials has penetration into all language groups.

Dr Hung The Nguyen, GP