Community urged not to neglect their regular health

19th May 2020

South Western Sydney doctors have backed calls urging people with chronic health conditions and acute medical issues not to neglect their regular healthcare and to continue to see their GP or specialist during the COVID-19 lockdown.

The doctors’ calls echo an RACGP and Federal Government plea to all Australians to not put off seeing their GP.

Dr Nathan Cooney, from Wintergarden Family Practice at Bowral, has reassured patients that general practices are as safe as possible.

“For example, we don’t see anyone here with coughs and colds in the building,” he said.

“We have a tent in our carport where we see people with coughs and colds.

“We’ve got Perspex up in reception, the number of people we have in our waiting room has been reduced to probably a quarter of what we’d normally do, and we’ve got the resources for lots of personal hygiene and lots of PPE equipment.

“With the numbers being so low in the community now I feel that it’s very safe to come in.”

Most local GPs are also adopting telehealth consultations, speaking to patients via the telephone or online and following-up face-to-face if needed.

Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt last month urged those with existing health conditions to continue to seek care for the management of their condition.

Since the COVID lockdown, visits to general practice were down an estimated 30 per cent while pathology had dropped around 40 per cent. Some patients have been putting off X-rays and ultrasounds for more than three weeks. 

“Whether in person, or through the expanded telehealth network, it’s critical that people continue to manage their general health throughout the COVID-19 health emergency,” Mr Hunt said.

“Your GP is there to help you follow your treatment plan and improve your health.

“If you have a regular follow up appointment booked with your doctor, please contact your medical practice to see if this can be carried out using a telehealth consultation (by telephone, or video call), or if you need to see your doctor for a face-to-face consultation.

“If you are taking regular medication for management of a chronic condition, it is essential that you continue to take your medication. If you run out of medication, please contact your doctor or your local pharmacy to arrange a repeat prescription.

“A failure to keep appointments and continue treatment could also put you at greater risk of being severely affected by COVID-19.”

Chronic conditions include arthritis, asthma, back pain, cancer, cardiovascular disease, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, diabetes and mental health conditions.

However, Dr Cooney said he had also had non-chronic patients delay treatment for fear of the virus, including one with a suspected broken foot.

“I had someone come in for a flu vax but about three weeks before they had a mini fall and had quite severe pain in their foot,” he said.

“They thought it was a fracture but decided not to come in. They thought the flu vax was more important than their broken foot.”

Dr Cooney said GPs could do a very thorough run down of people’s health over the phone or via video consult.

“If people are afraid, I think the first step is just phone and we’ll see what we can deal with over the phone. If we can’t deal with some things, maybe you’ll have to come in but there’s no harm in making a phone call.”

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