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Nov 13 2020

Greater inclusion of primary healthcare in disasters

I recently had the pleasure of being invited to, and presenting at the NSW Ministry of Health’s ‘Disaster Manager’s Forum’.

Growing up on a farm in the Hawkesbury and working in primary healthcare for over 20 years, I understand the impact of natural disasters and emergencies on communities. Systemic inclusion of primary care in emergency preparedness, response and recovery is something I’m passionate about and strongly advocate for, so presenting at this forum was a great opportunity to discuss matters very important to me.

The discussion was particularly pertinent given the release of the Royal Commission’s final report into National Natural Disaster Arrangements the week prior. The report made over 80 recommendations, and we were pleased to read that one of these directly relates to the coordination of primary healthcare through all phases of disaster planning and management.

Earlier this year, we had the opportunity to respond to the Royal Commission into National Natural Disaster Arrangements. One of the key recommendations we made was to recognise and resource the role of Primary Health Networks (PHNs) in preparing and coordinating the Primary Care Response to Natural Disasters, as well as support inclusion of the role of PHNs in National, State and Regional emergency management plans.

Our region was one of many to be affected by the 2019-20 ‘Black Summer’ bushfires that tore through homes, businesses and communities. This was a difficult time for many, but living and working in this beautiful region brings with it the challenges of natural disasters, including recent bushfires, drought and floods.

With each experience we have gained knowledge and learn how to better prepare for the future. Since the devastating 2013 Blue Mountains bushfires, our organisation has taken the lead in supporting the role of GPs in a disaster. We have been proactively advocating for an integrated approach to disaster planning that recognises the important role of primary care providers.  

The report recommended “Australian, state and territory governments should develop arrangements that facilitate greater inclusion of primary healthcare providers in disaster management, including: representation on relevant disaster committees and plans and providing training, education and other supports.”

This recommendation will ensure we are part of every stage of disaster planning, and enable us to better prepare and support our primary care providers to provide appropriate care response in a timely way during a disaster. As a result, this will reduce pressure on acute care services who can then focus on acute care needs.

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Lizz Reay is the CEO of Wentworth Healthcare, provider of the Nepean Blue Mountains Primary Health Network. Previously Deputy CEO of Nepean Blue Mountains Medicare Local & Nepean Division of General Practice, she has an extensive background in public health.

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