Primary care staff feeling the strain

GPs in the region have been feeling the pressure

Primary carers in the region are suffering from a negative influence on their emotional and mental health after more than two years of living with the fall-out of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The latest COVID Impact Survey conducted by The Hunter New England Central Coast Primary Care Network reveals that care staff are also concerned about the management of chronic health conditions.

Throughout the pandemic the Primary Health Network (PHN) has conducted three COVID impact surveys of general practices and primary care providers, with results highlighting areas of concern, identifying needs and providing a rationalisation for a range of ongoing support activities undertaken throughout the pandemic.

Primary care providers were surveyed for the third time in April 2022 to assess the ongoing impact and to determine what, if any changes need to be made to primary care support activities.

PHN CEO, Richard Nankervis, said the results were unsurprising.

“Workforce shortages, driven by COVID restrictions on international recruitment, isolation rules and illness have all created this perfect storm for GP burnout and fatigue,” he said.

“The PHN is addressing this issue through the successful implementation of several incentive schemes to recruit GPs to our region.

“In the past 12 months, our incentives have recruited 26 new GPs.

“We will continue active recruitment to support and grow the general practice workforce.

“Similarly, we know that with lockdowns and isolation came a dramatic decline in health screening and chronic disease management.

“The impact of this will be seen in the coming years.

“We are working with primary care to address these issues.”

Nankervis said on a positive note, it was good to see the uptake of telehealth and other digital tools.

“The PHN has invested $1M over the past six months to provide 200 general practices, allied health practices and residential aged care facilities with a $5,000 digital health grant,” he said.

“These grants have gone a long way to improving general digital health capabilities and enablers such as telehealth systems, website upgrades, online booking systems, e-referral/e-prescription and/or cyber security training.”

The fundamental themes identified through the survey include: continued negative impact on emotional health and mental health of primary care staff; 85 to 95 per cent of general practices are concerned about the emotional wellbeing of their staff; and 65 per cent of practices reported serious to severe impact on the workforce.

“The impact on staff is by far the most significant issue for general practices and allied health providers,” Nankervis said.

“The longer the situation continues the more staff are affected and the level of despair and anxiety increases.

“(In addition), 53 to 92 per cent of general practices and 52 to 76 per cent of other primary care providers reported a moderate to severe impact on the structured management of long term/chronic health conditions.”

The PHN is working with key stakeholders to identify ways in which to help and assist with the tiredness and exhaustion that primary care providers are feeling.

Nankervis said the PHN will also work with stakeholders to look at alternate models of care that support and return the care of long term and chronic health conditions to a level that addresses the potential long-term impact on the health care system and will advocate for appropriate funding mechanisms and instruments to address alternate models of care and to recognise that early intervention can bring about long-term benefits for the consumer and the system.

It will review and identify funding to address the issues related to the adoption of video consultations in both general practice and other primary care settings and work with providers at an individual level to leverage off the digital health maturity assessments currently underway.

Nankervis said other themes and results will be reviewed by the relevant work streams in the PHN, with the clinical and community councils being engaged in the process of identifying mechanisms to address the issues.

Primary source: Media release, Jul 17, 2022, Primary Health Network

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