The last remaining general practice respiratory clinics in Melbourne’s east and north-east closed at the end of October, meaning locals will no longer be able to use them to get treatment for COVID-19, flu or other respiratory conditions. The closures do not mean that residents in the east and north-east will find it harder to receive treatment for urgent respiratory conditions.
This move from the Victorian Government comes as general practices have boosted their capability to safely and effectively treat patients with respiratory symptoms and have made other improvements to their practices to treat mild to moderate respiratory conditions.
Additionally, other medical services such as the Victorian Virtual Emergency Department, Nurse on Call and Priority Primary Care Centres can provide care to patients who need it quickly but who do not need to present to emergency departments.
Earlier this year, all general practices were able to access nationally funded Strengthening Medicare grants to boost their capability to treat patients with respiratory symptoms and make other improvements to their practices. Even before these grants, many practices were regularly and safely treating patients with respiratory symptoms and have done so throughout the pandemic.
Patients with mild to moderate symptoms (including confirmed COVID-19) can seek care from their usual GP, or another GP if their usual one isn’t available. Most general practices provide care for patients with respiratory symptoms, both by telehealth and face-to-face. Telehealth appointments are suitable for most low-risk patients.
The pandemic response and the health care services available has changed significantly since GPRCs were established in 2020. The population is highly vaccinated and other mitigation factors are common.
While many general practices continued seeing respiratory patients throughout the pandemic, some protected other patients and staff by referring them to the general practice respiratory clinics. Most are now back to offering service to everyone.
Janine Wilson, the CEO of Eastern Melbourne Primary Health Network, said, “For most healthcare needs, your local doctor or general practice should be your first point of contact. However, if you’re unable to secure an appropriate appointment or require care after regular hours or on the weekends these alternative services can provide the treatment and support you require without the long wait in a hospital emergency department. Patients will receive immediate attention from a healthcare professional and allowing hospital emergency departments to prioritise genuinely life-threatening medical conditions and injuries.”
General practice respiratory clinics (GPRCs) were set up from 2020 as a rapid response to the COVID-19 pandemic. At their peak, there were 50 operating in Victoria.
In recent months that number decreased as COVID-19 cases dwindled and other services stepped up to take over.
The closure of the last few GPRCs marks an important moment in the history of the pandemic. Although COVID-19 continues to circulate in the community, high rates of vaccination, acquired immunity and the availability of fast-working antivirals mean that there are fewer serious cases.
With this year’s influenza season also coming to an end, the remaining GPRCs will soon likely have few patients to see and so it makes sense that their equipment and highly skilled personnel are deployed into other parts of the health care sector.
PPCCs operate halfway between regular general practices and the hospital emergency department. There are six PPCCs now open in the Eastern Melbourne PHN catchment located in Epping, Glen Waverly, Heidelberg, Forest Hill, Maroondah, and Monash Children’s.
They are set up to treat urgent but not life-threatening conditions, such as fractures, sprains, burns, respiratory conditions fainting, food poisoning, other gut issues, and urinary tract infections.
They are open extended hours, accept walk-ins, have other services nearby and do not charge for their services. A Medicare card is not essential.
The VVED – which will link you to an emergency doctor or nurse through your smart device or computer – is at vved.org.au
Nurse-on-Call is available 24 hours a day and reached on 1300 60 60 24.
For life-threatening matters call Ambulance Victoria on 000.