The New Zealand Rural General Practice (the Network) welcomes the Ministry of Health’s decision to extend the Pandemic Emergency Roving Locums (PERL) contract for a further six months.
Network Chief Executive Dr Grant Davidson says, “this decision recognises that the impact of COVID-19 on rural practices is ongoing, and many of these practices are already short staffed while having to cope with swabbing and vaccination on top of their normal community health needs.”
The recent COVID-19 outbreak in Auckland, with an infected person visiting sites in the Coromandel, highlights the vulnerability of rural areas and their practices.
“Practices in the Coromandel have had to ramp up to high levels in order to achieve testing levels that will act to contain further spread of the virus,” Dr Davidson says.
“We are working with the PHOs in that area to monitor workload issues and provide support where possible.”
Dr Davidson says that the stress levels on staff may not be immediately apparent, however the burnout may show signs days or weeks after the event passes.
“We are looking to provide locum support through the PERL funding to help with this,” he says.
The Network is also aware that if a health worker in any small rural practice becomes infected then the entire staff of that practice may have to go into isolation, leaving the health of the local community at risk.
“We are working to look at how we may be able to mobilise a small team to move into an area to assist if such an incident occurs,” Dr Davidson says.
In the next few months, there may also be further breaches of the border that could impact other rural practices in a similar way to the current Auckland/Coromandel outbreak.
Because the remaining PERL funding is limited, the Network aims to focus those funds in the immediate future to support Coromandel and rural Auckland practices that are bearing the brunt of the current COVID-19 response.
The Network also wants to ensure there are PERL funds remaining to support similar future outbreaks that might occur anywhere in the country.
At the same time we welcome applications for locum support from any rural practice that can demonstrate that they are in urgent need of staffing assistance due to the impacts of COVID-19 on their workplace over a period.