Coronavirus patients are likely to present to pharmacies as well as GPs, says one stakeholder, after a state Health Minister slammed doctors for “refusing” to help patients
The Doctors Reform Society has responded to comments this week by Western Australian Health Minister Roger Cook, who said that a quarantine zone at a hospital carpark was “unacceptable” and reportedly slammed GPs for turning suspected patients away.
The ABC reports that Mr Cook said that he had “heard first-hand from people who have said they rang the GP to say ‘I’m coming in, I’m not feeling well’ and they were told not to come here,” in an appearance on ABC Radio Perth.
Dr Tim Woodruff, president of the Society, wrote to Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt following the remarks, asking him for a public apology to GPs and an ongoing commitment to the fever clinics announced this week, as well as “vigorous advocacy with national colleagues for provision of personal protective equipment for Australian GPs and for Medicare funding of safe telephone-based assessments by GPs of people concerned about COVID-19”.
“The WA Health Minister was reported as saying (West Australian, 5 March) that it was inappropriate that GPs were ‘rejecting’ patients who were concerned about COVID-19 and directing them to an Emergency Department,” said Dr Woodruff.
“The Minister’s words sadly reflect a complete misunderstanding of first response carers in emergencies.
“Every surf life saver, paramedic, and emergency service worker knows that in an emergency, safety of the emergency responder is the first priority.
“What use is an electrocuted SES volunteer or a drowned surf life saver? What use is a GP who assesses a patient one day and dies a week later, having exposed his/her staff and family members to a potentially fatal infection?
“General practice is the site of first responders in this emerging COVID-19 scenario. GPs, practice nurses, and reception staff need every support to help the many patients who are understandably concerned about the problem.”
AMA WA president Andrew Miller told the ABC that GPs were unable to treat everyone because they were having difficulty accessing protective equipment including face masks.
“If they don’t have the right gear and they think they’re exposing other patients and themselves to unacceptable risks then the AMA will back any practice that chooses to refer fever patients elsewhere,” he said.
PSA National President, Associate Professor Chris Freeman told the AJP that “pharmacists would expect that GPs would treat and assess COVID-19 patients as they would any patient with a possible communicable disease and that they have the appropriate procedures in place to deal with COVID-19, much like they would have in place to deal with a suspected case of influenza”.
Patients are also likely to present to community pharmacies if they suspect they have contracted the novel coronavirus, he said – but again, this is not the best approach, and pharmacists will also need help in managing them.
“With regards to community pharmacy, which unlike general practice does not have access to testing for COVID-19, we would urge patients as suggested by Departments of Health to ring ahead to either their general practice or specific testing centres, generally located at the tertiary hospitals,” A/Prof Freeman said.
“We acknowledge that patients will simply turn up to community pharmacists given we are also front line health professionals and so we are asking for support so that pharmacists can appropriately triage and refer patients to the correct part of the health system.
“Now is a time for everyone to step up in the context of dealing with COVID-19 and we have seen an extraordinary willingness from pharmacists to be involved.
“We have heard a number of examples from community pharmacists appropriately referring people on for testing, and we know the huge role that they are playing now in ensuring continuity of medicines supply.”