GPs need to be prepared for flu pandemic
General practitioners would be crucial in avoiding large numbers of deaths in Australia as a result of a pandemic influenza outbreak, researchers at The Australian National University have shown.
The findings come as Australia's health and emergency services converge on Brisbane tomorrow to stage the largest health crisis simulation in the nation's history – Exercise Cumpston – which will test systems designed to cope with a pandemic flu outbreak.
Research team member Professor Marjan Kljakovic from the ANU Medical School said GPs would play a key role in containing pandemics, which might otherwise spread rapidly, crossing continents in days. He also said GPs would be doing this while providing ongoing care to patients with severe illnesses that are not flu related.
But Professor Kljakovic said the research funded by the National Health and Medical Research Council has shown some barriers for GPs participating in what needs to be a whole of health community approach to an outbreak. "There are roadblocks for GPs. Some of these are to do with regulations. How accountable will GPs be for patient care in the altered environment of a pandemic? Will they be able to delegate some of their work to others?" Professor Kljakovic said.
The researchers also called for new funding models to support different clinical practice in a pandemic situation. Doctor numbers would be depleted as a result of contact with influenza patients, resulting in a stretched medical workforce dealing with increasingly ill patients.
"Modelling for the study showed us that unless we embrace new models of care in a pandemic, about 150 non-influenza-related emergency cases would not be treated at the height of a pandemic each day in a city like Canberra – which could raise the death rate substantially," Professor Kljakovic said.
The study has created practical plans to help GPs prepare their practices for a pandemic, including a needs-assessment tool and a group-learning exercise. The research team also encourages practices in the same area to work together to form a pandemic influenza response.
"If an influenza pandemic hit Australia tomorrow we would be under-prepared," Professor Kljakovic said. "This research has raised a number of issues we need to look at – including alternative models for providing care in pandemic situations. General practitioners are well placed to be able to recognise and intervene early in order to prevent the most vulnerable in the community suffering first in a pandemic. These things need to be considered before the pandemic occurs or we risk a high death rate from both influenza and other acute conditions."
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