The Royal Australian College of General Practitioners (RACGP) is encouraging Australians to thank general practice staff including nurses, receptionists and administrative employees for their incredible work throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.
The pandemic has posed many challenges for general practice team members, including reports of nurses being verbally abused, threatened and even insulted in public as “disease spreaders”.
RACGP President Dr Harry Nespolon said it was vital to recognise the work of primary care staff.
“This pandemic has been a very challenging time for general practice and the RACGP recognises that the staff working alongside GPs rarely get the attention or praise they deserve.
“The focus more often falls on GPs and they are of course doing a great job. However, we don’t sufficiently acknowledge the courage, perseverance and deft touch exhibited by general practice staff across Australia – they are the unheralded heroes of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“So to all of our nurses, receptionists and administrative staff my message is simple – thank you. “Thank you for navigating complex changes to primary care operations including expanded telehealth services. Thank you for implementing COVID-19 safety protocols such as designating where patients can sit and markers on the floor to help patients exercise social distancing.
“Thank you for answering the questions some patients have about consulting a GP during this pandemic, your work has not gone unnoticed by the healthcare community and general public.” Leichhardt General Practice manager Penny Mills said that it was often front of office staff who managed some of the more challenging aspects of treating patients during the pandemic.
“This pandemic has understandably caused much anxiety for patients. Most of our patients have acted fairly; however, unfortunately some have behaved unreasonably and were extremely offensive to our reception staff.
“Some staff have had to deal with uncooperative and rude patients when they are simply trying help them abide by the recommended guidelines and keep everyone safe.
“We altered the way our front desk reception staff managed appointments and applied strict triaging protocols prior to booking, either offering telehealth consultations or face to face appointments for those well enough.
“Those patients booked for face to face consultations were triaged again prior to entry to the practice. Reception had to deal with patients who expressed frustration with this new protocol.
“Another major cause of impatience and unreasonable rudeness from some patients was the shortage and unpredictable delivery of this year’s flu vaccinations.
“Our receptionists patiently and politely dealt with these concerns whilst continuing to handle their many other essential tasks at the same time.
“I was constantly amazed at how under such extraordinary stressful times for everyone the front desk team remained calm and professional.”
Dr Nespolon said that more should be done to support general practice staff during and after the pandemic.
"At times the information communicated from different levels of government and exactly what rules and responsibilities are in place has caused confusion and concern for healthcare professionals and patients.
“People suffering from information overload have been unsure whether they can see their GP, how to use telehealth and telephone services and what is required of them when they do visit a general practice.
“Even just the question of who should be tested for the COVID-19 virus has changed repeatedly and some patients have unreasonably been asked to obtain clearance certificates from their GP stating that they do not have the virus.
“General practice staff have faced their own challenges including sourcing sufficient stock of influenza vaccinations and personal protective equipment. Shortages of PPE such as masks, gowns and gloves has proven very stressful.
“That is why in our submission to the Senate inquiry into the government response to the pandemic we emphasised the importance of coordinating the urgent supply of PPE to practices facing shortages and prioritising adequate supply of influenza vaccinations to general practice.
“Let’s also ensure that during this pandemic and in years to come we never take for granted the hard work of general practice staff including nurses, receptionists and administrative staff. They do not always get the plaudits they deserve so once again on behalf of the RACGP and entire community I say thank you and keep up the great work.”