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Planning Needed Now To Protect GPs In Next Pandemic

30 August 2005

Planning Needed Now To Protect GPs During Next Pandemic

General Practitioners and other primary healthcare workers are going to get sick and some are likely to die during the next flu pandemic, and steps need to be taken now to minimise the impact, a University of Otago Public health researcher says.

Dr Nick Wilson, who is based at the University’s Wellington School of Medicine and Health Sciences, says at its peak a pandemic could lead to a loss of up to 9% of GP medical work time, according to various modelling results.

In a research paper, published recently in the journal Human Resources for Health, Dr Wilson and colleagues estimated that 88% of the work time loss would be because of the GPs getting sick, while 8% would be due to hospitalisation, with the other 4% the result of GPs dying during the pandemic.

“It will all happen at a particularly critical time, when the demands are high on GPs,” Dr Wilson says.

An even more severe scenario would include time spent by GPs looking after sick family members, which could end up accounting for nearly a third of lost work time.

“There is a need to think through some of the planning steps needed to minimise the loss of availability of the GP workforce,” he says.

Those steps would include improving public health control strategies such as border control and planning how best to use the anti-virals that the Ministry of Health has been stockpiling.

“There could also be plans for setting up systems such as emergency creches so that primary healthcare workers can drop off sick children and be confident they will be looked after properly,” Dr Wilson says.

“It is something that needs to be thought through and planned in advance.”

Dr Wilson also advocates developing contingency plans to expand services such as the “Healthline” telephone information service and greater promotion of key websites with information on managing influenza.

“If GPs were able to cancel routine consultations and if the use of healthlines and websites could dampen down demand then it would help them get through that peak period.”

In other work published earlier this year Dr Wilson and colleagues estimated that during an 8-week flu pandemic spreading through the whole New Zealand population there could be an estimated 325,000 to 759,000 cases requiring medical consultations, 6,900 to 16,200 hospitalisations, and between 1,600 and 3,700 deaths.

A full copy of the published article is available at:


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