Mind the gap


The Federal Government needs to lift its game when it comes to planning for pandemics, say stakeholders, and pharmacy must be involved

The Royal Australian College of General Practitioners is urging the Government to develop a national plan to deal with potential pandemics, saying that the emergence of the COVID-19 novel coronavirus has exposed failures in the country’s public health response.

RACGP President Dr Harry Nespolon said that the problems with the health response must not be ignored.

“Australia needs to implement a national plan for dealing with potential pandemics. This isn’t the first and won’t be the last – if we don’t address these problems now, we’re risking people’s health,” he said.

“While we have a national plan for pandemic influenza, it has not been implemented. Not implementing a plan is as good as not having a plan.”

Dr Nespolon said that across Australia GPs and patients had battled with a range of problems, including inconsistent advice from state and federal health agencies and unpredictable availability of protective equipment, such as face masks.

“To take one example, there has been confusion about the type of face masks that GPs need to wear – this protective equipment is vital to keep GPs and their patients safe and stop the spread of this disease,” he said.

Dr Nespolon also said that GPs are also receiving different advice from states and territories about the tests for coronavirus, and whether they should be performed by GPs or in negative pressure rooms in the hospital setting.

“So, at a time when GPs are on heightened alert and may be seeing more patients than usual, we have the extra burden of needing to call around to various health agencies to work out what the current advice is,” he said.

“It has taken too long for state health agencies to update their advice in line with the federal advice. GPs have faced weeks of confusion trying to figure out which guidelines they should follow. It’s undermining the critical work GPs do in caring for patients and in controlling outbreaks like coronavirus. 

“It’s essential that we are receiving timely, evidence-based and consistent advice from the outset of an outbreak, so we can continue providing safe and high-quality care.”

Responding to the comments, pharmacy stakeholders have pointed out that the sector also needs to be included in planning.

“PSA believes there is a real gap in the Federal Government’s proactive pandemic planning,” said Associate Professor Chris Freeman, national president of the Pharmaceutical Society of Australia.

“It is insufficient and there has been a lack of proactive dialogue with primary care professionals including pharmacists to enable an appropriate response should an infectious disease crisis hit Australia.

“However, PSA acknowledges the collaborative work with the Government and health professionals during the recent bushfire crisis and in response to the coronavirus.

“This collaboration has occurred once the events have taken place and more proactive planning, collaboration and dialogue needs to be done in advance with Australia’s health professionals including pharmacists to ensure we are all properly prepared when the next pandemic or crisis hits.”

A spokesperson for the Pharmacy Guild said that, “It just makes sense for community pharmacy to be included at all stages of pandemic planning because pharmacies are the most accessible health destination, and pharmacists are medicine experts”.

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