Disaster-affected healthcare providers should be considered essential services
Last week, health officials including AMA President Professor Stephen Robson and AMA NSW President Dr Michael Bonning traveled to Lismore for an emergency summit on the to urge state and federal governments to immediately support health services in the flood-stricken region.
Professor Robson and Dr Bonning were joined by representatives from the Pharmacy Guild, Royal Australian College of General Practitioners, Pharmaceutical Society of Australia, Australian College of Rural and Remote Medicine, NSW Rural Doctors Network and the Rural Doctors Association of NSW, with all organizations calling for immediate grant funding to affected healthcare providers.
The disaster in the communities of Lismore and Northern Rivers damaged the premises of 25 primary care services, including doctors’ offices, dental offices and a pharmacy, many of which are uninsured against flooding because coverage was not available. unavailable or unaffordable.
The recovery of these businesses has been slow and difficult, with business owners not having access to sufficient or timely subsidies. Many are unable to resume their pre-flood activities due to damage to their premises, which has affected their current income.
Given this financial instability, many business owners in the healthcare sector are considering closing their premises and leaving the sector, which would have a significant impact on the healthcare of residents.
Rural and regional populations already face worse health care outcomes than people living in metropolitan areas and shutting down services would only exacerbate this health inequity.
Events like the Lismore floods are a stark reminder of the human toll of global warming. Catastrophic flooding poses immediate health risks, including contaminated and unsafe drinking water, decreased infection control, and drowning. Long-term health risks are also exacerbated due to the impact on community health services as well as long-term impacts on the mental health of survivors.
Climate disasters aggravate existing inequalities. In flood-prone areas such as the Northern Rivers region, ongoing healthcare disruptions for various community members, including Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, people living with disabilities, socio-economic groups -economically disadvantaged, elderly, and culturally and linguistically diverse groups can have serious health consequences.
Rural communities have also been hardest hit by current GP shortages, with increasing workloads and waning interest in the specialty among the next generation of doctors. Financial support should be provided to rural GPs to ensure that their practice infrastructure and medical equipment can be quickly restored and replaced after disasters.
General practitioners are often the only source of access to health services in rural and remote settings. It is crucial that the government provide all the support necessary to retain physicians and their practices in these areas.