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Flood victims’ health now a priority
AS the full toll of the Queensland floods becomes clearer, GP groups are working closely with officials to ensure flood victims will have all their health needs met.
The Federal Health Department yesterday activated its National Incident Room (NIR), an emergency team that is now working to coordinate health services at the heart of the natural disaster. It has previously been activated for emergencies such as the SARS outbreak and in the Bali bombing incident.
Chief Medical Officer Professor Jim Bishop is heading up the NIR and has also convened a GP round table, bringing together doctors, nurses and pharmacists to outline steps to ensure patients are able to access services.
Medicare has agreed to relax MBS restriction around Medicare provider numbers, so doctors going into flood-affected areas will not have to obtain a new provider number.
In addition, requirements around authority prescriptions have also been relaxed. GPs in flood-affected areas attempting to ensure continuation of patient medications for authority-listed prescriptions will be able to do so under emergency arrangements.
Queensland Health has advised GPs that prescribers contacting the authority line to gain permission to provide replacement scripts for lost or damaged medications, as well as valid repeats, will have the ‘too soon’ rule waived.
In areas where contacting the authority line has become problematic, GPs will still be able to issue the prescription, with the words 'emergency authorised by Medicare Australia' and a date, time and signature written on the side.
Meanwhile, experts are warning that Queensland flood victims will be facing a barrage of public health threats in the wake of the natural disasters, and GPs will need to be especially vigilant for signs of disease.
Professor Bernie Hudson, an infectious disease specialist at the Royal North Shore Hospital in Sydney, told MO the flood victims would face the risk of contracting skin and soft-tissue infections through cuts and scratches, and water-borne gastrointestinal infections, melioidosis and leptospirosis.
“If patients come in presenting... with a fever and sick… GPs could consider the possibility of leptospirosis and, in tropical regions, melioidosis,” he said.
GPs should also expect a second wave of mosquito-borne infections following the devastating floods, warned Professor Hudson, who is also a professor in tropical medicine at Cook University in Townsville, Queensland.
“After a period of heavy rain like that, you then get a surge in mosquitoes and you are at increased risk of more things like Ross River [virus], Barmah Forest [virus] and possibly Murray Valley encephalitis,” he said.
He said GPs should look for red flag symptoms such as fever, aches and pain, rash or arthritis.