Clinic business

The respiratory clinic takes its last breaths • The Medical Republic

A government package to expand covid response measures includes money for GP-run respiratory clinics, but the flagship clinic has missed out.


Health Minister Mark Butler today announced that the government would invest $48 million to extend the operation of around 100 respiratory clinics run by GPs until the end of the year.

The money for the clinics is part of a $1.4 billion package that extends covid measures, which are currently set to expire on September 30, until December 31, 2022.

But a key respiratory clinic in Balmain, Sydney’s central west, is set to close within two weeks.

Located in Prime Minister Anthony Albanese’s Grayndler electorate, the Inner West GP Respiratory Clinic opened in 2020 and offers bulk billed consultations for patients with covid and other respiratory conditions. Its medical director is AMA NSW President Dr Michael Bonning.

“To determine which GPRC Respiratory Clinics (GPRCs) should continue to operate, the department has taken an evidence-based approach that considers location, distance to alternative health care facilities, demographics of population and demand,” a health department spokesperson said. gtr.

“GPRC’s scalable, demand-driven calibration is consistent with the original design of a flexible and agile surge capability that can be deployed in an emergency situation.”

But the clinic’s chief nursing officer, Megan Guy, said the closure would leave respiratory patients with few options.

“You can pick up a swab from a pathology clinic, but that’s not what we do,” she said.

“We are a real respiratory clinic where you can come in and have respiratory symptoms checked and then you can also be seen by a GP. We are not a swab service; we are the flagship site for the deployment of the respiratory clinic for general practitioners.

“I really wonder where they think the 200 patients a week that we see are going to go.”

Associate Professor Charlotte Hespe, RACGP NSW/ACT Faculty Chair, said while change was likely to come, that was not the way to handle it.

“It’s probably time for us to say we need to get back to business as usual and ask ourselves what it looks like and how to put systems in place within each standard general practice,” Professor Hespe said.

“But we didn’t really have a chance to do that before they said, we’re going to defund the clinics and everything has to go back. Also, the patients themselves weren’t really handed over properly. We had to get set up quickly, but we don’t really need to fund or remove them quickly. We could actually transition over three months and let everyone know how we’re going to handle this, get all the systems in place, and then we shut them down.

“As for the staff, they provided this key service and then they are not told that they have to tell everyone to leave. It’s a matter of common decency. If you run a business, you don’t close it without notice.

Clinic nurse Hayley Chandler – who recently started an online petition to oppose the closure – said there were still GPs in the area who were not offering face-to-face appointments to face for patients with covid or those without a confirmed negative PCR test.

The clinic “has bridged that gap for the community and provided excellent respiratory care,” Ms Chandler said, noting that in May this year wait times for an appointment had skyrocketed to more than four days.

“With the closure of the respiratory clinic, there will be more pressure on GPs and emergency services to meet the health needs of sick patients – especially those with respiratory conditions.”

Prof Hespe said arrangements must be made to determine how patients with respiratory symptoms view GPs.

“Most of the GPs I know have been very happy not to have to see patients with respiratory symptoms because it was just [makes it simpler] for everyone. And there are a lot of doctors who still feel at risk,” she said.

“We need to have a proper protocol in place for standard general medicine seeing patients – who will also tell us less and less that they have respiratory symptoms. But we need to be able to do that with a lead time, and we need to let all the patients who have been to this clinic know that this is going to happen.

In addition to $48 million to expand approximately 100 GP-led respiratory clinics, the Minister of Health announced this morning:

  • $5 million to expand telehealth MBS items to prescribe lifesaving antivirals
  • $5.5 million in additional discounts for face-to-face GP visits for covid patients
  • $235 million to ensure PPE, treatment, rapid antigen tests and other supplies from the national medical stock for senior care, primary care, disability care and First Nations health services and frontline healthcare workers
  • $840 million in additional funding for the Elderly Support Program, including $35 million for ongoing on-site PCR testing in Elderly Care
  • $115 million to provide rapid antigen testing to service providers and care recipients in high-risk settings, including aged care facilities
  • $142 million in MBS items and rebates beginning Oct. 1 to test for SARS-CoV-2 and other respiratory viruses, as appropriate
  • continuing communications activities to ensure Australians can make informed choices about how to protect themselves and their communities from covid

“GP Respiratory Clinics are designed to fulfill a specific role in the emergency health landscape – to reduce pressure on public hospitals and general practice by limiting the spread and impact of covid in the community” , said the spokesperson for the health department.

“The clinics that remain open are providing fast and effective testing and treatment to Australians in areas that need it and the additional funding will allow them to continue their vital role in a response network that includes GPs, hospitals and other community health services.”