Media event date: 
1 April 2020
Date published: 
1 April 2020
Media type: 
Media release
Audience: 
General public

The first GP-led rural respiratory clinic established as part of the Australian Government’s $2.4 billion health package to respond to the COVID-19 outbreak has opened today in Emerald, Queensland.

Federal Regional Health Minister Mark Coulton said strong progress is being made on the Government’s commitment to establish up to 100 GP-led respiratory clinics around the country to assess patients with mild-to-moderate COVID-19-like symptoms. 

“While the pandemic is not widespread in regional areas as yet, it’s important we have local doctors leading the local response and preparation for their communities,” Minister Coulton said.

“The clinics will help to reduce pressure on hospital emergency departments and other general practice clinics.

 “I want to assure regional Australians that our number one priority is protecting and supporting communities through COVID-19.”

“These respiratory clinics will be best placed to support people with a fever, a cough, a sore throat, and other respiratory symptoms and help to minimise the risk of infection in the communities.”

Local respiratory clinics will enable members of the community with symptoms to receive the appropriate medical advice and get tested if they meet the eligibility criteria, without posing a risk to other patients in the clinic who may be seeing their GP for a non-COVID19 related reason.

President of the Australian College of Rural and Remote Medicine, Dr Ewen McPhee said he was ready to open the doors of the first GP Respiratory Clinic in regional Australia at the Emerald Medical Group.

“GP and mobile respiratory clinics are a welcome addition to health services in rural and remote communities and will help ease the pressure on local doctors and existing health services when responding to the outbreak,” Dr McPhee said. 

“Rural doctors are on the front line in their communities fighting this pandemic and I’m very pleased at the rate in which these local clinics can be established with support from Aspen Medical and the Department of Health.”

President of the Rural Doctors Association of Australia, Dr John Hall, also welcomed the establishment of the clinic.

"We are pleased to see the first rural GP Respiratory Clinic become a reality, and we look forward to the rollout of additional ones in rural locations in coming weeks.

“They are important, because they will help rural doctors and their communities to better cope with outbreaks of COVID-19 in rural locations. Ensuring these clinics are also distributed in rural areas will mean that rural Australians can get access to this vital service as well."

Minister Coulton said the Government is working with local GPs and Aspen Medical, which has significant health emergency management experience in Australia and overseas, to mobilise and rollout the clinics.

“We are focused on ensuring rural and regional communities are prepared to respond to this pandemic. That’s why we are putting in place a range of measures including additional practice incentives and the expansion of telehealth to enable the rural medical workforce to continue to care for rural people.”

The Government is establishing clinics across Australia including in regional areas such as the Riverina, Gippsland, Central Victoria, NSW North Coast, Western Queensland, Darling Downs, Tasmania and the Northern Territory.

The National Rural Health Commissioner is assisting in mobilising sites in regional areas of South Australia and Western Australia.

The Government is investing $206.7 million to establish up to 100 respiratory clinics across Australia, including in rural and regional areas in each state and territory. Other clinics already established are located in Macquarie Park and Blacktown in NSW and Morayfield and Nundah in QLD.

Additionally, more than 160 fever clinics, jointly funded by the Commonwealth and State and Territory governments, are also in operation across Australia.

To access a GP respiratory clinic, people can visit health.gov.au and use the online booking system.

BACKGROUND:

  • People with mild to moderate respiratory symptoms will need to make an appointment either online via booking links available at health.gov.au or over the phone if the clinic has made a local phone booking arrangement available. (People with severe symptoms should call 000 and/or attend the nearest hospital emergency department.)
  • It is important that people attend the clinic only at the time of their booking so that social distancing can be maintained, and they may be asked to wait in their car until the clinic is ready to receive them.
  • People will be assessed by a GP or a nurse under the supervision of a GP and have a specimen taken for pathology testing if that is indicated.
  • Regardless of whether a test is undertaken, the person will receive clinical advice on how to manage their symptoms and an initial follow-up phone call or text message with test results and to check on how they are going.
  • After people have visited the clinic, they will remain eligible to continue to consult their regular GP using the MBS telehealth items.